Coming out of the underground, the sky suddenly darkened and there were a few spots of rain. Potsdamer Platz was busy with traffic, scientologists surrounded by anti-scientology protesters wearing masks and tourists crowding around a few remaining slabs of the Berlin Wall. It's not a place real Berliners typically hang about in; compared to other areas, the restaurants and cafés are not the cheapest and the ultra modern architecture seems impressive but a little cold sometimes. I often think back to a beautiful scene in Wim Wenders Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) where the old writer is wandering through the wasteland, looking for the old Potsdamer Platz which was once the liveliest and most cosmopolitan meeting place with the café Josti. He knows he must go on because if mankind loses its storyteller, it also loses its childhood. The new Potsdamer Platz is unrecognisable.
Come on now, don't be shy!
But once a year, something wonderful happens there. Under the strangely shaped roof of the Sony Center, there is the smell of lilac and pots of daffodils and rhodedendrons blossom outside small greenhouses. The sound of music mingles with the advertising outside in a strange echo all around because it's time for the Herzgrün Liebeslieder festival (literally Green hearted love songs). For a free event which has been taking place for five years, it's still amazingly unknown. Every spring, over three days, musicians and singers perform short concerts in those little greenhouses full of Japanese blossom, lavender, bay trees, citrus plants and even a magnolia. You must call a few days before to reserve tickets and just before the concert stand in line impatient to get into that wonderful garden full of music and flowers. The first year we went, the charming Kitty Hoff and her Forêt Noire band were playing. Dressed in a pretty brown patterned dress with white knee high boots and wavy 1920s style hair, she enchanted us with her mix of jazz and chanson in songs about the little things in life. Last year it was Lisa Bassenge and her band Nylon. Seeing her standing in the crowd before the concert, dressed in black, I felt a little disappointed because she seemed so ordinary and not especially pretty but the moment the came on stage, a transformation took place and there was an amazing magnetism about her performance and her face became beautiful in the twilight.
The Sony Center in bloom
Yesterday, there was the strumming of a guitar and a samba beat as Bergitta Victor took us on a journey starting in Schlosspark Charlottenburg where she sat writing songs barefoot before finally coming back to the Seychelles where she was born. Towards the end, the sun made its welcome reappearence, illuminating the glass exteriors of the buildings and the inside of the roof with its golden rays.
As lovely as the afternoon concerts are though, I feel that everything only really comes alive when the light begins to fade. Shadows fall on the fresh green plants and the smell of the flowers become more intense the longer the music plays. We stayed for the next concert by K.C MacKanzie with her wonderful mix of folk songs and dark humour which made me think of the qualities of the Coen Brothers' films. Accompanied by Buddi on the double bass, banjo, Maultrommel (a small mouth instrument which makes a sound like a didgeridoo) and my favourite, a hammer and rock. I felt so sad when they finshed their last song and I knew this year's festival was over for us. Who says Germans can't be romantic?
The wonderful and talented K.C MacKanzie
Last Friday, the day was so warm and vibrant. I stared out at the park opposite from the place where I work, longing to be able to enjoy it while it lasted as rain was forecast for the weekend. Coming out of Savignyplatz S-Bahn, there was the smell of fish and chips as people sat outside at the restaurant Jules Verne where I've always wanted to go, if only for the prettiest, multi-coloured sprit bottles behind the bar. I made a visit to my favourite bookshop in Carmerstraße where a woman was telling the bookseller that she was travelling the island of Sylt (somewhere I've dreamed of for so long with its dramatic cliffs and waves) and wanted a book about the sea to read there, finally choosing an enormous volume by Claudie Gallay (in French Les Deferlantes) which I also can't wait to read, in spite of my suspicion of prize winning literature. I was a little less ambitious and found a collection by a Norwegian writer I'd never heard of before called Kjell Askildsen which I chose more for the beautiful cover than anything else, but I guess that's Pia's influence! I've only read a couple but there's a charming quirkiness and absurd humour in the way he describes characters who are mostly losers or outsiders. Sadly, little of his work seems to be available in English.
Springtime on Gendarmenmarkt last week
Making the most of the beautiful weather on Friday afternoon before the rain came.
Isn't that a little premature?
The perfect cheesecake which I made again for a friend's birthday - recipe here
Sunlight on my balcony yesterday
Sadly, the past couple of days weren't the best for me because I was ill. This also explains why I missed out on the lovely Daring Bakers challenge.The cause was my cooking, not overdosing on cakes as you might expect, but experimenting with a pasta dish including mushrooms. They once made me ill a long time ago but I've eaten them in the meantime without any bad effects. Anyway, you'll understand that I've decided not to post this recipe (or ever cook with mushrooms again) and after longing for something warm and nourishing but being unable to eat anything, it's a relief to just be able to cook again.
My last full week was busy with little time for cooking and baking. On Wednesday, I'll be travelling back to the UK for a visit to Derbyshire where I hope to see the bluebell woods, rhodedendron gardens, the parks of Chatsworth and take a tea at old Hardwick Hall in between chocolate bunnies. I'll leave you then with one of my essential recipes for keeping me going during the week. It's a pie with a difference - instead of pastry, you use a cheese scone crust. No rolling out, no chilling in the fridge for an hour. Just quick and delicious. Nigella uses red onions but I chose white ones instead.
Onion Pie for busy people (from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess)
For the filling/topping
4 medium onions (about 750g)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 heaped tablespoon butter (approx 25g)
3-4 sprigs of thyme
150g strong hard cheese like Cheddar or Gruyère, grated
For the scone base
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
40g butter, melted
1 teaspoon mustard
1 large egg beaten
For a 24cm pie dish, greased
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Peel the onions, cut them in half and then each half into 4 quarters. In a frying pan, heat the oil and butter then tip in the onions. Fry over a medium heat, stirring from time to time until they're soft and brown (Nigella says this should take 30 minutes but I've always found they're done in around 15). Season with salt and pepper, add the thyme and turn out into the bottom of the pie dish. Sprinkle about 5og of the cheese over them.
2. Put the flour, baking powder, salt and the rest of the cheese into a large mixing bowl. In a jug, pour in the milk and mix it with the melted butter, the mustard and the egg, then add it to the flour mixture in the bowl. Use a fork to blend and finally your hands (it'll be sticky). Knead it for a few moments (use more flour if needed) then on a generously floured work surface, press it out so it's big enough to fit the pie dish. Press it down on top of the onions of the bottom of the dish, paying careful attention to the edges.
4. Bake in the oven for 15 mins, then turn it down to 180°C for another 10 mins or until firm and golden. Leave to cool a couple of minutes, then cover the dish with a large plate and tip it out so the onions are on top.