For once I was unable to read in the tram as I made my way across part of East Berlin, too fascinated by unfamiliar buildings and occasional glimpses of some forgotten, monumental communist statues. After getting off, I walked through empty streets, whose names were shared with great composers, past high street chains, florists and graffiti covered walls, finding it hard to imagine that I would arrive soon at the Jewish cemetary, a place I had wanted to go ever since a friend told me about it.
Changing trams at Alex with the Rote Rathaus in the snow
A school playground on the way to the Jewish cemetary
I have always loved cemetaries. For me, they are not cold and morbid but places which offer us a chance to reflect and as they are so quiet, I often find it relaxing to take few hours to wander round, yet never before had I been to one that overwhelmed me with its silence and vastness. As the deserted, tree lined alleys led me further and further, the snow seemed to become deeper and deeper. The only sound was that of my boots sinking into the soft, white powdery surface and the squawking of the crows above. I felt far away from Berlin and lost in this landscape of eternal sleep.
There were the graves of those who disappeared tragically into the dark night of history in the 30s and 40s, the rows of tiny headstones whose names were hidden by the snow but who gave their lives in the First World War so we might live in peace, those who left for a better life in America but who were brought back to rest here. I thought of all these people, some of whom must surely have felt the same things as me, who thought that life would never come to an end. I thought back too to my first visit to Prague in November 2007 when I visited the Jewish monuments. On the whole, it seemed a little too commercial and touristy but the old Jewish cemetary made the biggest impression on me with its old, sometimes illegible gravestones piled upon one another in all directions. An icy wind was blowing and small, delicate snowflakes had started to fall.
Close to the deepest point of the cemetary, a solitary figure wandered back and forth with papers in his hand, searching endlessly for what? A name, a memory, a sign perhaps. I do not know how many hours I was in this magical place but found it difficult to tear myself away from it. Of course, I can always return there but somehow I knew such an experience would be unique with the silence and the melancholy romanticism of the snow.
Afterwards, returning to civilisation seemed a little unreal but I decided not to return home immediately and gather my thoughts during another long tram ride to the November café which Julia recommended to me a while back. It's in the heart of Prenzlauer Berg, one of the coolest parts of Berlin and on Sunday afternoon, it was bustling with locals enjoying étagère brunch and reading newspapers. I was lucky enough to get a place right by the radiator from which I could observe the passers by brave enough to face the cold. Locals sat on stools near the bar and greeted each other and as I sipped the most perfect frothy and creamy Latte Macchiato and enjoyed a bauern Frühstück (roughly translated as farmers' breakfast) which consisted of a thick omelette with fried potatoes and onions, my eye wandered over the range of colourful drinks and spirits behind the bar, especially to the Galliano which made me think of Venice at dusk when the light is fading and the illuminated buildings are reflected in the water. The service was a little slow as you can expect at busy times but for once, I wasn't in a hurry. Just as I was about to ask about cake, they brought out the most amazing looking ones: cheesecake, strawberry cake, walnut cake and a lone slice of poppyseed cake which I ordered. Although Julia particularly recommended the carrot cake to me which I hoping to try for myself, I wasn't disappointed with my choice; the delicate crunch of the poppyseeds in the moist cake with the lemon icing on top. If only all days could be so perfect...
Mohnkuchen (poppyseed cake) at the november café
The icon of the GDR, the Trabi, also stranded in the snow
Last but not least, some of you may know that today is Shrove Tuesday in the UK, or mardi gras, more commonly known as pancake day so naturally, I have to give you a recipe for them.
Shrove Tuesday pancakes
Makes 6-8 large pancakes
250g plain flour
50g melted butter, plus some extra for frying
1 large egg
To serve, lemon juice and sugar or the topping of your choice
1. Begin by melting the butter in the microwave or a saucepan and leave to cool a little.
2. Put the milk, flour and egg in a bowl and whisk until smooth and frothy then add in the melted butter. Cover the bowl in foil and leave in the fridge for at least 20 minutes so the batter can thicken.
3. Take a small frying pan and melt some butter in it over a high heat.
4. Pour enough batter into the pan to cover the bottom and leave to fry until the edge are golden brown and with a texture like lace then gently turn over or flip if you're brave. Cook the other side until golden then serve with lemon juice and sugar as we normally do in the UK or anything else you prefer. I love the sharpness of the lemon followed by the crunch of the sugar.
Tulips and pancakes to brighten up the winter!