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

kasspatzen

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.

Food Markets and Rooftop Bars in Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Berliner Sundays are all about food, music, flea markets and being outside.

Neue Heimat is a former railroad depot that became an artist squat and now has been repurposed as an outdoor Village Market serving food and selling goods from around the world against some of most colorful backgrounds I’ve ever seen.

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

I could not get over these walls

Neue Heimat Berlin

Or this doorway

Neue Heimat Berlin

I was so visually stunned, that I wandered around for a solid hour photographing a bunch of fantastic backdrops.

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Neue Heimat Berlin

Revaler Strasse

In comparison to the visuals, the food was almost secondary. Almost…

Neue Heimat Berlin

This is someone’s take on a cheese arepa with feta cheese, a variety of greens, beans and tomatoes stuffed inside an arepa like a pita. It was incredibly messy but pretty good.

However, this was my favorite nibble of the day

Neue Heimat Berlin

Paleo sweet potatoes with greens, seeds, cabbage and I don’t even know what all on it. Incredible. And while I ate it I got to watch a silly magician performing for kids

Neue Heimat Berlin

There was so much going on here, so many pictures to take and so many delicious things to eat that i’ll have to come back. They’re open Thursday and Friday nights as well so that might be a fun option.

But instead I headed off to meet these guys

Jon, Mark and MeI met Jon at the May Day BarBQ and we found Mark on the way home because he was a poor lost soul in the streams of Berliner humanity, trying to figure out how to navigate all the closed trains. This is our obligatory Americans in Berlin shot.

We went to a rooftop bar called Klunkerkranich, on top of a mall on Karl Marx Strasse overlooking all the red rooftops of Berlin.

Jon and mark at Klunkerkranich

It’s a great space that turns into a dance club when it gets late enough and all the hipster kids of Berlin congregate here for vegan pitas and beer.

Klunkerkranich Berlin

Klunkerkranich

A lovely night of silly conversation and donor kebab, culminating in a really solid Sunday. A perfect end to my second week.

Revaler Strasse

Berlin’s May Day

 

April 30 is known as Walpurgisnacht or Witch’s Night. It’s a pagan night of bonfires and fertility rites, like American Halloween, and celebrated with giant parties all over Europe. They call May 1 Germany’s Labor Day. Back in 1889 Karl Marx called it International Worker’s Day.

Historically these were two different events. But in Berlin on May 1, 1987, a peaceful street festival went sideways when the leftist groups got into it with the cops who started throwing elbows and tear gas. The festival goers were pretty lit up at this point so they started flipping cars, throwing rocks, setting fires and creating a barricade around the Kreuzberg neighborhood, which they then proceeded to thoroughly loot. By the time the cops broke through the barricade and dragged the rioters off the jail, the Kreuzberg was trashed and a bunch of people were hurt. Everything eventually settled down but May 1 has never been the same since.

I didn’t know much of the history of May 1 before I got here but the Meetup group of Berlin Expats that I joined were throwing a barbq. Everyone else in Berlin had the same idea, of course, because it’s a holiday, so we all congregated in Gorlitzer Park in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, still the heart of the party/riot.

One small part of the park  looked like this

May 1 Berlin

The streets around Kreuzberg were completely shut down and most looked like this

Photo by Tim/Flickr.

Photo by Tim/Flickr.

However, despite the massive groups of people and the ability to drink alcohol anywhere you like, the entirety of the park was a relatively peaceful place. Lots of music and barbq, a fair amount of sun, beer for days and absolutely no public bathrooms for the approximately 7,000 people. I spent 2 hours of my life standing in line for the bathroom and finally stopped drinking liquids all together.

The Berlin Expats are a diverse group from Israel, Palestine, Australia, Thailand, India, South Africa and the UK. And those were just the ones I met. They were all cool and I had a great afternoon just hanging out and meeting some new people. However, around 8pm I hit my social limit and started to head back to the subway only to find that all the stations around Kreuzberg were shut down and surrounded by polizei

After 1987, the Berlin police force formed a special task force for street fights, mostly in an effort to keep the May 1 drama under control. Despite this heavy police presence, even the crowded streets were pretty chill. I kept saying “where are the riots? I thought there would be riots!” and one of the guys said “Kaitlyn, the sun is still up. No one riots in the daytime.”

I’m not sure that’s true since all the pictures I’ve seen from previous years include marches

Rallies against capitalism

A few kicked in windows

And general mayhem. I suspect that this year was no different but I didn’t see any of it. I’m slightly disappointed… but I’ll get over it.

Instead we watched the sun set over Alexanderplatz

may 1 Berlin

And finally got home after a lot of walking, several closed subway stations and lots of redirection.

Berlin’s survived another May Day. Congratulations! Now let’s see what the rest of the month has to offer.

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

The Light and the Dark in Berlin

GendarmenmarktThe sun came out today! I had museum plans but I think it’s supposed to rain for the rest of the weekend so I opted to be outside on the River Spree.

River Spree

I have a fondness for boat cruises and with the sun out, it seemed like a good choice. Of course it wasn’t exactly warm – 50F maybe? – and the boat moved a bit quickly for good photos but I saw some pretty things.

Like the Berlin Cathedral, the center of all things Protestant in Berlin

Berlin Cathedral

And the Weidendammer Bridge with an imperial eagle, one of the oldest bridges in Berlin

Weidendammer Bridge

I loved this architectural detail with the holes in the wall of the Marie Elisabeth Lüders Haus.

Marie Elisabeth Lüders Haus

It’s another of their parliamentary buildings with a wall open to the sky.

There were a dozen other lovely things of which I took approximately 200 terrible pictures. I won’t subject you to them. But the river cruise was delightful, albeit chilly, and a perfect way to spend a sunny morning.

I then walked down to the Gendarmenmarkt, the German market square bounded by two cathedrals and the Berlin Symphony Hall where a street performer was blowing bubbles

Berliner Philharmoniker

I could have watched those bubbles for hours

Berliner Philharmoniker

The kids were chasing them, people were trying to take pictures, there was a guy playing saxophone… the sun was shining. Captivating.

Until I got hungry… I stopped for a salad, something fresh for a change

Shan Rahimkhan Berlin

So I could justify some chocolate afterwards. Fassbender & Rausch say they’re the world’s largest chocolatier. Is that actually true? There are a LOT of chocolatiers in the world… But this one did a giant chocolate version of the Reichstag Building, where I was yesterday

Reichstag Building in Chocolate

And they have a chocolate cafe on the second floor with exquisite views over the Gendarmenmarkt

Fassbender & Rausch

I couldn’t resist a little something

Fassbender & Rausch

That’s an Orange Krokant Tortchen with orange cream, sponge cake, ganache, dark chocolate… all of it. And yes, as good as it looks. This little burst of sweetness helped fortify my soul because my next stop was going to take it all out of me.

I’ve been putting off the memorials here in Berlin because I want to give them each some proper time and attention. But it’s difficult. I don’t wake up and think “I’m in the mood to revisit the holocaust today.” However, I’m here. It happened. It’s part of the history of the world and specifically this city. The Germans have the grace and bravery to face their past head on, it seems the least I can do as a visitor is do the same.

So I went to Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

This memorial design is controversial, not least because it’s without any obvious Jewish symbolism and it’s abstract. It resembles a cemetery but there’s no writing of any kind on the concrete stelae. If I didn’t know it was a Holocaust memorial I probably would never guess, although it seems formal, severe and somber.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

The name of this memorial states “murder,” which was another another controversial but incredibly important decision. No one just died in the Holocaust and I’m glad the memorial openly states that.

It’s incredibly difficult to photograph and the experience of it is strange because all those blocks are varying heights and the ground warps, rises and falls underneath them leading to long tunnels.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

,But because of this ground variation I could see people walking and then they’d just vanish as the ground dipped and took them below the level of the blocks. I hope that symbolism was part of the intent of the memorial because it’s powerful.

I think this memorial has be experienced to be appreciated. The straight up visuals are only part of the story.

And the rest of the story resides in the information center under the memorial, a brutal emotional slog through pictures of concentration camps, stories of victims, recovered goodbye letters and a timeline of the rise and fall of the Third Reich. It’s a lot. And it’s not even everything by a long stretch.

I found myself more moved by the letters than the pictures and I spent quite a bit of time in this dark room where the name of each murder victim is projected on the wall and a brief bio is read about them in German and English. They say that projector of victim names never turns off and they think it will take 6.5 years to read through all the names of the Jews that died at the hands of the Nazis.

6.5 YEARS.

And they were just one group of persecuted victims! That doesn’t even count the gypsies, the homosexuals, the disabled and the opposing members of the Bundestag who were sent to concentration camps when Hitler rose to power.

I can’t get my mind around it. It’s too much. But I have to try because to quote Primo Levi “If it can happen once, it can happen again.”

And it is happening. Now. In different places and under different governments, in countries that don’t get as much attention because they don’t have the power of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Yet.

The world is a harsh and beautiful place. I saw both sides today.

Street Art Berlin

The Reichstag Building in Berlin

Reichstag Building

Everyone told me that Berlin would be cloudy and rainy but for the past week there’s been so much sun that I actually got a light sunburn! Until today… which is cloudy and rainy.

Not the best conditions to visit the Reichstag, which looks rather gloomy and foreboding in this (or perhaps any) weather. The Reichstag Building houses the German parliament (the Bundestag). Originally built in 1894, it was destroyed in the 1930’s and rebuilt with a glass dome (the one on top that you can barely see) in 1999.

This is the dome.

Reichstag Dome

Because it’s a government building, I had to make reservations to tour this dome. It doesn’t cost anything to get in but they limit the number of people in it at any given time. And because it’s enormously popular, it’s hard to get reservations. I probably lucked out today because of the rain.

The inside of the dome is an incredible feat of engineering and design by architect Norman Foster

REICHSTAG DOME

It’s also an astonishing environmental model, especially for a public building. The 360 mirrors on that central column redirect sunlight down into the parliamentary chambers to reduce the building’s electricity burden and the column itself collects energy from the heat rising from the lower floors and uses it to heat the building.

Reichstag Building

Would that all governmental buildings in the states had such beautiful environmental sculpture in them.

The top of the dome is accessed with spiraling up and down ramps. The whole thing is just stunning

Reichstag Building

Of course the views out weren’t worth much today, because of the rain

Sad German flag in the rain

But I’ll come back. There’s a rooftop garden restaurant that serves breakfast and includes access to this dome so I’ll check that out on a sunny day.

I also had my first German lesson yesterday at Expath

Expath Berlin

The school is quite small but geared towards expats so there’s a looser vibe in classes and not as much regimented structure. There’s definitely a class curriculum but it seems they respond to students’ needs rather than always starting every student in the same place.

My teacher, Stephan, started by asking me what exactly I had in mind by taking German classes and only being in the country for 5 more weeks. I explained my thinking and he nodded and said that what I wanted was “Survival German.” So we started with numbers and a grocery flyer so I could start figuring out how the money works, how to pronounce all the numbers and what the names of various items are – blueberries, yogurt, etc.

Stephan was great, pronouncing and remembering the numbers was tough. Hard to get my mouth around them. Although I learned some interesting trivia such as: the word for “one” in European languages always has an “n” in it and the word for three always has an “r.” Also the number words are based on a 1-12 merchant duodecimal system so numbers 1-12 are unique.

These are the things that kept me entertained while trying to force my tongue to say “neunundzwanzig.”

Stephan’s English is perfect and I love having a bilingual teacher because I could ask questions and it wasn’t just 90 minutes of force-fed German. And as always when I’m in a new country and I don’t understand much, I give huge props to immigrants learning English because it is HARD to learn a new language.

Again, I don’t know how much I’ll absorb in 5 weeks but I’ve already started whispering words to myself in public to try out the pronunciations. Yes, I’m sure I sound crazy but perhaps one day I’ll be able to pronounce “zwanzig” or “streichholzschächtelchen.” 

More tomorrow. Let’s hope for sun

Street Art Berlin