I can remember very clearly the first and only time I went to Babelsberg before last weekend. It was L's birthday on a Sunday, the day when the clocks went forward and we woke up an hour later than planned. I had only just moved into a shared flat in Charlottenburg but already the bookshelves were full and my flatmate was spending a week in Italy with her family. I had been hoping to get the place to myself for that time but then her younger brother came to stay - a strange individual who walked barefoot along the streets of Berlin and made loud whooping noises behind the closed door of his sister's bedroom (she would later throw him out upon her return after discovering he'd drunk all her alcohol). L. was one of the first people I met in Berlin and pure California sunshine. She had the kind of charming giddiness that could make you forgive her anything, particularly when you were on your way to visit her at the agreed time and got a last minute call telling you not to come for another couple of hours because she was still at her old flat, skyping a friend back home. Because of her I went for long walks along the Spree and retreated to Dussmann's to kill the time. She was even more hopeless than me at finding her way in Berlin which meant picking her up from the underground station in case she got lost. On the night before her birthday, I made a roast vegetable lasagne and a large chocolate cake which we ate while watching The Devil Wears Prada before the sleepover. Sunday was truly springlike as we met a colleague of L's who was to be our guide in Potsdam. I remember seeing the castle through for the first time and A. telling us that the students didn't like living there in the past because they believed it was haunted. We paused outside the Kleines Schloss restaurant for coffee and cake by the river Havel before catching the bus to Sanssouci palace and finishing the evening at a little Indian restaurant in Charlottenburg. L. left Berlin a few years ago after a student in her class broke her heart. We said our farewells outside her apartment in Neuköln and she promised to come back. I wonder if she ever thinks of Babelsberg.
My trip last weekend couldn't have been more different; winter instead of spring, the ground covered in a thin layer of snow. I could have gone on Saturday and enjoyed the clear sunshine but chose my fitness classes instead. Looking back, perhaps I prefer the melancholy winter's day when the branches were tangled by the frozen fog and the deserted park looked like something out of a fairytale. I took no map and wandered along the paths without any clear aim, figuring that all paths lead to Rome, or in this case castles. There was something wonderful about turning a corner and seeing one rise up through the branches in front of you. Occasionally, I would hear voices of couples or families nearby but they had faded by the time I moved in their direction. Schinkel's Schloss Babelsberg is still being repaired like it was a couple of years ago and in the gardens, a stone dog is keeping watch. As you wander down and down, you catch glimpses of the river Havel with the Glienecke bridge reflected in the water's edge like a vintage mirror. Joggers and walkers wrapped up tightly make their way along the riverside path and just around the corner is the yellow form of the Kleines Schloss (or little castle) which may not be the very best place to eat but is certainly one of the most charming and a welcome spot to warm up over latte macchiato and Russian Zupfkuchen.
Walking through the park with frosty branches made me feel like I was lost in a forest as I tried to find the path back, thinking that it might have been better to leave a trail of white pebbles to mark my way like Hansel and Gretel. In Pankow later that afternoon, I couldn't resist watching Neil Jordan's Company of Wolves, a twist on werewolf tales based on Angela Carter stories, while eating a slice of my very first brioche with poppyseed. Even if nothing can compare with a fairytale, the day still seemed truly magical.
Coffee and Zupfkuchen at the Kleines Schloss on the river Havel
Last Saturday, the light was so exquisite that I couldn't resist the urge to get up early and take photos in the small park outide my building.
My building in the middle, next to the green one. I live on the top floor.
The old school in Pankow
Poppyseed brioche (brioche au pavot) from Pascale Weeks - you can find the original recipe in French here
Ingredients for 2 brioches
25cl full fat milk, gently warmed but not hot
1 sachet dried yeast
550g plain flour
1 level tsp of fine salt
2 eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
100g soft butter
A little milk for glazing
A packet of poppyseed cream (in Germany, you can find Mohnback in all main supermarkets or you can use the recipe below to make your own)
In a small bowl mix half of the warm milk with the sugar and the yeast and leave to rest at warm temperature for 10 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt.
Make a well in the middle then pour in the yeast mixture.
Little by little, bring the flour back towards the centre then add the rest of the warm milk and the lightly beaten eggs. Knead the dough in the bowl or on your worktop for 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and not at all sticky. Add more flour or water as needed.
Add the butter and knead for another 5 minutes.
Cover the bowl with a teatowel and leave to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm place (for example near the radiator) until the dough has doubled in size.
When that has happened, place the dough on a floured worktop and get rid of the air inside by pressing down with your hand. Divide equally into 3 (you can weigh it to be sure) and roll them out into three rectangles of roughly 15cm by 50cm. On each rectangle, spread a third of the poppyseed cream and then roll it up so it into a sausage shape. Cut each sausage in two.
Place 3 rolls onto a lined baking sheet and plait them together. Do the same thing with the other three rolls on a different sheet. Cover with a teatowel and leave for 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 180° and put a ramekin filled with water inside. Brush the brioches with milk to glaze them. Bake the first brioche for 30 minutes, then the second. As they rise so much in the oven, you shouldn't bake them on the same sheet.
You can tell if a brioche is ready by tapping it with the edge of a knife. It should sound hollow.
Leave to cool on a metal rack.
Poppyseed cream by Flo Bretzel
125g ground poppyseeds
1 sachet vanilla sugar
1 tablespoon peanut oil
4 tablespoons of fine semolina
4 tablespoons ground almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Boil the milk then remove from the heat and leave to cool a little. You can grind your poppyseeds in the mixer then just pour in all the other ingredients and blend until smooth.