Saturday, December 31, 2011

German New Years Traditions

 As Jessica noted the other day, as we were wandering around Karstadt, Germans seem to place a lot more emphasis on luck for New Year's than we do in the states. (photo left) Everywhere you can buy little trinkets with symbols of luck: a pig, a mushroom, a chimney-sweep, or a four-leaf clover. Yes, those things are all lucky. You can call someone a Glückspilz or a Glücksschwein, a "lucky mushroom" or a "lucky pig," like in English, "you lucky dog" or "lucky duck."

Some other New Year's traditions include Bleigießen, or "lead pouring" and watching the show "Dinner for One" on TV, fireworks, and eating Berliner donuts (called "Pfannkuchen" here in Berlin).  Bleigießen is apparently like reading tea leaves, except you pour melted lead into cold water. Then read the shape for its future prediction. The show Dinner for One is apparently the most-played segment on TV. They have it every year. It's 11 minutes long, and you can watch the clip below. Germans think it's hilarious.  More on the show Dinner for One from an article on think it's partially so funny because you get drunk every year and watch it.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Berlin: Sinfonie der Großstadt

Tonight we saw Walter Ruttmann's classic 1927 film Berlin, die Sinfonie der Großstadt, with live musical accompaniment by the two-man electro band from Berlin Tronthaim.  I had seen it before and really wanted to see it again. My eyes just couldn't get enough. The editing is really fast, and the techno music works really well with the fast-paced scenes of city life. The film is divided into 5 acts, starting with the beginning of the factory working day, and ending with nighttime entertainment and leisure. The film opens with a train pulling into Berlin's main station, and trains, trams, buses, cars are a major theme of the film. It's just amazing to see how the streets looked, what people wore, what children wore, the various hats and shoes...and all the differences in the lives of the working class and the middle classes. It's also amazing that cars and horses co-existed at this time, and makes for chaotic streets!  I really love this film with this accompaniment...They seem to play regularly in Berlin, and it's a really unique event. Below is a short clip: "Berlin - Symphony of a great City" from TRONTHAIM on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Restaurant Renger-Patzsch

For dinner, we went out to Renger-Patzsch in Schöneberg, just a few U-Bahn stations away. I really liked the décor, with the stained wood and black-and-white photographs by the artist Renger-Patzsch.

We treated ourselves to a nice, big dinner. To start, Jessica had Blutwurst (blood sausage), I had Maultaschen with a balsalmic-lentil salad, and Michael had fennel risotto with sea bass filet. For the main course, Jessica had rabbit in a red wine sauce, I had Ochsenbacken, with potato-root vegetable puree, and Michael had the duck, with red cabbage and Serviettenknödel. For dessert, we split the Spekulatius-Parfait, with grape preserves.

Biking around Berlin

Schloss Bellevue


A year or two ago, a friend of mine lent me the food issue of the New Yorker, which had an article about "Spit Cake," or "Baumkuchen." (Clarification: "Spit" refers to being baked while turning on a spit, not spit as in saliva.) This is how the article described the cake:

"The finished cake is iced with a thin sugar glaze or heavy slatherings of chocolate. Not only does the form resemble a tree trunk; when sliced horizontally, the fine, curved shavings reveal rings of age" (Read more )

I was intrigued, but very few bakeries in Germany still do this. Luckily, I heard of one in Berlin. So Jessica and I biked off in search of Baumkuchen. And we biked really far. In the cold. So we really deserved it when we got there. :) 

It's called Café Buchwald, and it's one of the old-school Konditoreien, like I posted about here. The café is just behind Schloss Bellevue, on the Spree, north of the Tiergarten. It was pretty busy when we got there. All the tables were occupied or reserved. But in Germany, you can also join a table if there are seats open, and sit with strangers. It's a nice compromise for these small, yet popular locations. We joined a couple at a table for 5, and they were leaving anyways. A bit later, two older men came and sat down next to us. It's an interesting cultural phenomenon. Usually they say, "tschüß" to you or something friendly when you leave, but otherwise you just ignore them and pretend like they're not there.

Jessica's Baumkuchentorte
 The cake was a lot lighter than I thought it would be. Also, I have to say the rings were not as well-defined as I think they should be. You should be able to see the layers. But it had a really nice subtle almond flavor, and was really good with coffee. The perfect Kaffeepause after biking! Jessica had the Baumkuchentorte, which has the tree-like layers like Baumkuchen, but isn't baked on a spit. Also beautiful and delicious!

Café Buchwald

"the Ferrari of bread": Soluna Brot und Öl

 Today Jessica helped me check off quite a few places on my list of places to buy food at or eat food at.

This morning, we went to Soluna Brot und Öl. It's on Gneisenaustr. in Kreuzberg, less than a mile from my apartment but somehow it took me four months to get there.  As we entered, we noticed that the big front windows were all fogged over, and we entered the steamy warm, delicious-smelling bakery. The big clay oven is front and center, and the rack of bread is off to the left with a small case of other products (salamis, cheeses, house made pesto). We got some Brötchen, which we had for lunch, two half-loaves of bread for later, and some walnut-tomato pesto.

They had a review from the New York Times in their window, link here. Chef Michael Hoffmann has called the place, "the Ferrari of bread". :) I hope to become a regular!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mauerreste - Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer

 One of the (in my opinion) worst places in Berlin is Checkpoint Charlie. I never understand why all the tourists clump there. All you can do is take pictures of the famous sign "YOU ARE LEAVING THE AMERICAN SECTOR". There is no wall, and no way to gain a good sense of what the Berlin Wall was, or what it looked like. On the other hand, Berlin does have a great memorial/museum/historical site at Bernauer Straße, where you can see a section of the wall as it would have looked, watch (free!) documentaries about the wall, and gain a sense of what the entirety of the wall was like.

What I didn't understand for a long time, was that the Berlin Wall was actually around WEST Berlin, not East. It isolated West Berlin as a capitalist island in the middle of East Germany. The wall that faced "inward," to West Berlin, was eventually covered with graffiti. West Berliners could get right up to the wall and touch it. On the other side, the side facing East Germany, there was a second wall, guard towers, an electrified fence, and getting close to the wall. So that side was pure white. On the Bernauer Straße site, you can see this system, and they have a (also free!) tower to climb up and look over/into the "death strip" between the two walls.

Café Bilderbuch

After a run in the Hasenheide park, we had breakfast at Café Bilderbuch (Cafe Picturebook) in Schöneberg. It's been on my list of places to have Frühstück for a long time...because of the adorable breakfast names, after fairy tales, like "Es war einmal" (Once upon a time), "Hänsel und Gretel," and "Tischlein deck dich", and "Die kleine Meerjungfrau" (the little mermaid), with caviar and salmon. We both had the vegetarian "Hase und Igel" breakfast, with fresh German Brötchen.

Konzerthaus: Espresso-Konzert

The Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt has an "Espresso-Konzert" once a month: tickets are 5 EUR, a coffee or espresso is included, and you get a 45 minute concert with one of the musicians from the orchestra. We enjoyed a beautiful harp concert with their harp solist, and got to enjoy the space of the Konzerthaus. It was a really wonderful experience. I would love to watch out for this and go again sometime!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Berlin: from super-fancy, to super-grungy

trying on New Year's hats. :)
Berlin really does have it we started at the super fancy Kaufhaus des Westens, and ended up in Tacheles, a graffiti-covered, zoo-like-smelling artist squat.

But now from the beginning.

After walking around the Bergmannkiez (grocery stores, postcards, market hall), we took the U-Bahn west to the KaDeWe--foodie paradise. (Jessica's visit is planned a lot around eating certain things.)  There were lots of people out and about. I guess that's what happens when you keep Germans closed up in their homes for three days with all stores closed. They stir-crazy and can't wait to get out to Ku'damm. We wandered around the gourmet floor, admiring the tortes, the champagne bars, lobster bar, rows and rows of jams and jellies, French bakeries, stinky cheeses, strange meat pâtés...and made one purchase: some tea (Ginger-Orange, and Märchenwald). We also laughed at the displays of American products: squirt cheese, root beer, and a can of pumpkin for 7 EUR! (Also a box of Macaroni and Cheese for 4 EUR.)

From KaDeWe we walked down Tauenzienstraße to the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche. Unfortunately, it is being "renovated" (renovating a ruined church?), but you can still walk into the remaining foyer area. (You just can't see the church from the outside.) Here you can see the golden mosaic with the Kaiser, and they have a nice historical timeline of the church in its glory days, and in its ruined state after the war. It was left half-intact as a memorial to the war.

After popping into a few (super busy!) stores, we were in need of Verstärkung, a little "pick-me-up." We went up to the Café Kranzler, overlooking the Kurfürstendamm shopping mile, and shared a piece of Marzipan-Torte and had a cup of tea.

For dinner, we went out to a place called Schwarzwaldstuben in Mitte. It's southern German food: the traditional Spätzle, Schnitzel, Maultauschen, etc. Michael had the Maultaschen, Jessica got a venison dish with brussel sprouts and Serviettenknödel, a savory bread pudding-like thing, sliced into round pieces. I had a Flammkuchen with duck and apple. This food was not so easy to photograph, but Jessica and Michael definitely had the best food. And of course some good German Pils to go with it!

After dinner we walked down Oranienburger Straße and went into Tacheles, a large old building taken over by artists post-1989...that reeks like a zoo and is covered in graffiti. Ah, Berlin... Only here. In no other European capital can you still find gems like this. But developers are threatening to evict the people, and I'm not sure what is going to happen to the place. Anyways, it's like so much of Berlin...changing quickly!

Monday, December 26, 2011

thie Christmas-ing keeps on going...

My friend Jessica arrived this evening, and we first headed downtown in search of the last of the Christmas markets. Most of them end tonight (Second Christmas Day), but some stay open through New Year's. We got to enjoy some of the Christmas lights of Mitte and Friedrichstraße, as well as the beautiful interior of the Hotel Adlon with its giant gingerbread house. At the Gendarmenmarkt Weihnachtsmarkt we had a Glühwein (my last of the season, I must admit...) and enjoyed the choir in front of the Konzerthaus. It was really warm this evening, and pleasant to walk around. Lots of people downtown at the market. 
Below: the choir at Gendarmenmarkt

glad to be back in the land of the Brezeln!

Merry Second Christmas Day

From New York Times
In Germany they have First Christmas Day, and Second Christmas Day. So MERRY MERRY all over again! :)

Today I just wanted to share this link from the New York Times, German Baking, From Almond Paste to Zimtsterne. Elisabeth and I attempted Zimtsterne, post here.  It was difficult. Kudos to these bakers, bringing German baked goods to the U.S.! We can always use more good Stollen, and Schwarzbrot and any other non-squishy bread! (The article has a hilarious bit about how Americans think "rye" = "caraway seeds".) Also interesting that the article title mentions "almond paste" Americans not know what "marzipan" is?

My sister also recommended I read The Master Butcher's Singing Club (Louise Erdrich) ...which is okay so far. I really laughed at this one part at the beginning of the book, where someone brings American bread into this German village, around 1919 or so: "This man held something white and square in his hand that Fidelis took at first to be a picture of some sort, but it was blank. When he saw that it was bread, shaped with a precision that could only be the work of fanatics, Fidelis entered the circle of men to examine it. The thing was sent in a package from distant relatives...Machines had kneaded and baked and then sliced it. Or were these everyday American bakers? That was the argument. Fidelis inspected the bread when, passed hand to hand, it came around to him. He noted the fine texture and wondered at the treatment of the yeast...It seemed an impossible thing to him, an artifact from some place that must adhere to an impossibly rigid order."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

to Christmas memories...

Merry Christmas morning! Although I can't be with my family, I tried to keep some of our very special Christmas morning traditions...I just wish I could have pulled my sisters out of bed to join me. :)

Opening the 25th door on the Advent calendar to find a Christmas tree, listening to Christmas music, making my mom's oven pancake (with a squeeze of lemon juice, powdered sugar and drizzled with maple syrup) and asparagus spears wrapped in ham with cheddar. Some German Sekt with breakfast makes it extra special! In Minnesota I know they have snow, and a fireplace with stockings...which is a nice thought from rainy Berlin!  Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I wish you all a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gemütlichkeit und die Konditorei

A friend sent me this video (00:00-4:15), which is really excellent. Unfortunately for those of you who don't speak German, it's auf Deutsch.  It's about Germany's wonderful Konditoreien, traditional pastry/torte shops, narrated by a French woman who has been living in Germany 24 years. (The video is from ARTE, the French/German channel.) She talks about how gemütlich [cozy] they are, the different kinds of Torten, and how so many different types of people enjoy them...and how they are unfortunately getting harder and harder to find, because they are being replaced by "American chains" (ie Starbucks).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

something funny

I saw this really funny thing in a shop today: "Magnet-Map." It's a magnetic board to help you remember where you parked your car. You can order it online ( with a custom map in the radius from your home, and with 1-3 car magnets. The example I saw in the store was centered on Bergmannstrasse. The green rectangle you see is Chamissoplatz, and the black key is hanging where we live. :)

Yet another reason I'm so glad I don't have a car! (And in Berlin with the public transit you don't need one.) It's interesting how this little board is evidence of nightmarish parking conditions (and stressed-out forgetful minds?)...although Berlin has a lot more parking than other cities of this size.  Anyways, I thought this was brilliant!

I thought of a certain friend of mine who could use this...except she forgets where she parked on campus, so she would need a work-centered map rather than home. :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Elisabeth, it was fun! Thanks for visiting!

Here are just a few of the pictures that didn't make it up originally...

amazing Turkish food (thanks, A!)...the morning excitement of the advent calendar... the U... crepes at the Markthalle... beer on the street with Michael...

I hope you come back!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

goodbye jogging

We've been going on jogs almost every morning, to slightly off-balance the Lebkuchen and Stollen intake. :) Mostly in my neighborhood, in the Hasenheide park. But today we took the train out to the far end of the Tiergarten, to have one last jog through the city back home. We started at Schloss Bellevue, the residence of the German Bundespräsident, ran by the Siegessäule, the victory column, through the Tiergarten (wintery bare), along the Berlin Wall (marked by the double bricks), by a former Nazi building, Soviet mural, through Kreuzberg and back home. The last picture is Elisabeth saying "Tschüss Berlin!" in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


What a good activity for a rainy wintery Berlin day...We made the dough a few days ago, and it was chilling in the fridge, waiting to get rolled out. We found a recipe on a German site called "Omas Lebkuchen" (Grandma's Gingerbread) and decided that one must be good and traditional.

Ingredients: 500 g rye flour, 300 g spelt flour, 400 g sugar, 12 T honey, 4 eggs, 90 g butter, 2 t baking soda, 20 g Lebkuchen spice, 1 t cinnamon, 1 t ground cloves, peel of one lemon, 20 g unsweetened cocoa powder, 100 g candied orange peel (chopped), 60 g candied lemon peel, 100 g raisins, 140 g ground hazelnuts.