vendredi 11 mai 2012

Footfalls echo in the memory

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Sometimes it's just a partcular shade of green, part of a conversation overheard or a photo like Gracienne's that makes me homesick. I think of our garden, the bluebell woods in spring, people carrying orange bags from Sainsburys and queuing for those red London buses and it melts my heart. These past few weeks I've been busy cancelling Internet, phone, electricity and while there was a liberating rush at the idea of not having to pay for any of these soon, it also made me aware that yes, I'm really doing this, that I have only six more weeks in Berlin and a one way ticket booked for the UK (eek!). People often tell me that I'm brave for wanting to change my life and for taking a leap into the unknown but believe me, I feel like a total coward and fraud, quaking in my boots at the very idea of all that I have to do before I make my way to the airport.

Part of me wants for it all to be over and then another part winces at the pain of goodbye. I've always been torn between people and places and the languages that I speak, feeling very English whenever I'm abroad and yet like a foreigner in my own country. Somehow though I know deep down it's the right time to leave and think of Scarlett Johansson in Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona and her impression that the wind has changed course and that it's simply time to move on. Could there be any better guide than your own heart? I have always been a restless person - probably that's what motivated me to study philosophy in the first place in the hope of finding some answers. Some friends ask me if it won't be strange returning ot the small place where I'm from but my honest answer is I don't know how it will be when I get there. Actually I'm looking forward to my long summer break reading in the garden, playing badminton and croquet, watching Wimbledon and the Tour de France, just like back in the school holidays. I guess deep down I hope to find that part of myself that I lost when I moved away, that perpetual adolescent who still refuses to grow up completely and wants to go in search of adventures, a little like Alain Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes.

While I continue with my soul searching and waves of emotions that seem to change as often as the weather here, let me offer you a farewell gift; my little Berlin guide. My friend Manon inspired me with her wonderful post on how to spend a weekend here (if you speak French you might like to check it out). Mine doesn't promise to be a definitive list of the very best places and it's rather oriented towards the West since that's where I spend most of my time but it will certainly give you a few ideas.


Ixthys (Schöneberg, U-Bahn Nollendorfplatz) - My friend Gabi introduced me to this place last summer. It has to be one of the strangest culinary experiences consisting of a tiny room decorated with biblical quotations on the wall and inside the menu. Yet everything is freshly prepared and once you taste the bibimbap (made with meat, fish or tofu), you'll easily forgive its other flaws.

Pizzeria Piccolo Taomina  (Charlottenburg, U-Bahn Uhland Straße/ S-Bahn Savignyplatz)- I discovered this after an event at the Insitut francais which is just down the road. It's probably the most affordable place you'll find to eat round Ku'damm and I can totally recommend both the pizzas and the tiramisù. plus what could be nicer than having your order shouted in Italian over the loudspeakers when it's ready?

Hamy Sophie (Charlottenburg, U-Bahn Bismarckstraße).  This is perhaps my favourite place to eat at the moment, somewhere my friends and I go after fitness classes as it's nearly opposite our gym. There are only a few dishes on the menu but all are freshly prepared and can be made without meat if you wish. They also offer delicious smoothies and the service is incredibly friendly and fast.

Satyam (Charlottenburg, U-Bahn Ernst Reuter Platz, S/U-Bahn Zoologischer Garten)) - Many Berliners complain about the lack of good Indian food in Berlin. While this probably won't win any prizes among real Indian affectionados, I have a soft spot for a place serving all vegetarian food which is tasty and comforting. Nothing like burning your fingers getting the steam out of fresh bhatura bread on a cold winter's day..

Gottlieb (Schöneberg, U-Bahn Eisenacher Straße) - For its wonderful breakfasts and at lunchtime the Käsespätzle.

Datscha (Friedrichshain, U-Bahn Samariter Straße or S/U-Bahn Warschauer Straße)- I used to meet my friend Justine her every week and we came to think of it as our place. The borscht (either with meat or vegetarian) is delicious but make sure you save room for dessert; the warm blini with berries and quark is pure heaven, as is the Zupfkuchen when they have it. Alternatively, you could get up late on Sunday, wander round the charming flea market at Boxhagener Platz and call in for the wonderful brunch without the usual dried up bread and sweaty cheese.

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Sasaya (Prenzlauer Berg, U-Bahn Eberswalder Straße- For some of the best Japanese food in Berlin look no further. Reservations recommended.

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Teatime or Kaffeeklatsch

Café 1900 (Charlottenburg, S-Bahn Savignyplatz) - My friend Wendy lives next door to this charming little place filled with flowers where you seem to step back a little in time. The coffee is wonderful and they serve the biggest pieces of home made streuselkuchen with plain or spelt flour and all kinds of fillings. A treat and still something of a secret.

Der Kuchenladen (Charlottenburg, S-Bahn Savignyplatz) - If cakes, tarts and gâteaux are your thing, then this is the place for you. A large range of delicious cakes of all varieties. It tends to get pretty packed at weekends so reserving before might be a good idea.

Café Einstein Stammhaus (Schöneberg, U-Bahn Nollendorfplatz) - There are two locations in Berlin, one on Unter den Linden which offers one of the few possibilities to get a decent coffee in this area, but I still prefer the original Stammhaus tucked away in Schöneberg. There's something of an Austrian coffee house about it and definitely an old fashioned elegance. The coffee is wonderful as is the cheesecake. Not to be confused with the Einstein Kaffee chain you'll find throughout Berlin.

Cafe Buchwald (Tiergarten, S-Bahn Bellevue) - In summer people head to sit outside but I prefer to sit in the large room at the back with its wooden floor and upholstered chairs which has a timeless feel. In summer a gentle breeze blows through the floral curtains as you savour your large piece of cake or perhaps some of their famous Baumkuchen.

Cinema café (Mitte, S-Bahn Hackescher Markt). Finding a decent and affordable place for a coffee in Mitte nowadays is sadly quite a challange but I have a real fondness for this place, one of Berlin's oldest cafés where you can take your drinks out into the only unrennovated courtyard with its graffiti.

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Kaffeemitte (Mitte, U-Bahn Rosa Luxemburg Platz) -  This café offers the chance to get away from the masses of tourists and bubble tea shops springing up just about everywhere. Great for its trendy concrete décor as well as the coffee and cakes, especially the apricot crostata and tiny cream filled cannoli.

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Kohlenquelle (Prenzlauer Berg, S/U-Bahn Schönhauser Allee) - One of the few authentic places left in this over hip neighbourhood. I once met Sylee here for lunch and love the fact that none of the chairs seem to match, as well as the good food. It's a place to spend time on a sunny afternoon chatting with friends or reading.

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Kleines Schloss Café (Babelberg, S-Bahn Babelsberg) - This one is rather out of the way but sometimes it's lovely to take the train out of Berlin. Instead of following the crowds to Sanssouci palace, why not get off a couple of stops earlier and head for the park in Babelsberg with its winding paths and little castles? If you make it down to the water, you can stop for some refreshment at this delightful place with its wonderful view.

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Everyone heads for the Pergammon or the Neues Museum which are certainly amazing but the crowds can be unbearable and the air is sticky. If you're lookng for something a little different, you could try:

The Gemäldegalerie (Tiergarten, S-/U-Potsdamer Platz/ U-Bahn Mendelssohn Bartholdy Platz) - One of my favourite places for its wonderful collection of paintings which are beautifully hung. It's also an oasis of calm with just the occasional schoolgroup passing through but often you have the rooms almost to yourself.

Museum für Fotografie (Charlottenburg, S-/U-Bahn Zoologischer Garten) - This is dominated by the large Helmut Newton foundation but there are other exhibitions too and a library. For lovers of photography, a must.

C/O (Mitte, S-Bahn Oranienburger Straße, U-Bahn Oranienburger Tor)- Located in the former post office on Oranienburger Straße, the C/O has exciting exhibitions from well and lesser known photographers. But even if those weren't so good, it would still be worth going for the building alone with its Berlin scruffiness, peeling walls and tiled floors. Sadly this will all change come autumn when it moves to a new home and the place is turned into yet another characterless hotel.

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Museum for Film and Television (Tiergarten, S-/U-Potsdamer Platz) - Located on Potsdamer Platz, step inside and take a journey through the history of German film and television taking in Louise Brooks' bob, Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Marlene's dresses. There are also interesting temporary exhibitions.

The Jewish Museum - For me, Berlin's mosr interesting and unusual museum which manages to be moving, humourous and informative without ever being dry or resorting to clichés. The café is also great.

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Max Liebermann Villa (Wannsee, S-Bahn Wansee, then bus 114)- Discovered by accident one winter when I needed a warm place to shelter from the cold on one of my walks and now a firm favourite of mine. The garden is perhaps what I love the most, so beautiful all year round, and there's a wonderful café where you can sit and enjoy the view down to the Wannsee. Until August there's also an exhibiton of garden paintings by Emil Nolde and Max Liebermann.

Words, words, words

While I fantasise about finding a bookshop like in Hannah and her sisters whre you can get a copy of ee cummings' work, I know this is probably just a dream (especially since the place they used for that in New York closed down long ago). These are nice alternatives though:

Marga Schoeller (Charlottenburg, S-Bahn Savignyplatz) - Something of a Berlin institution this. They sell both English and German books and the staff couldn't be nicer. The English section is quite small but you can also find real gems here like 'I, Claudius' and Henry James' 'English Hours'.

Bücherbogen (Charlottenburg, S-Bahn Savignyplatz) - Just around the corner from Marga Schoeller and under the arches of Savignyplatz is this shop selling all kinds of art, design, photography and film books, sometimes in English. You can browse to your heart's content while trains rattle by overhead and also pick up the latest copy of Cahiers du Cinéma or Sight and Sound.

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The Autorenbuchhandlung (Charlottenburg, S-Bahn Savignyplatz) - If you like reading in German I can think of no lovelier place to buy your books. They have the prettiest editions and the staff are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. And even if you don't read German, it's worth stopping by to enjoy the atmosphere and order tea and cake in their charming new café.

Dussmann - Part of me feels bad for including this because I try to support the smaller shops first but I can't help liking Dussmann, partly because it's a refuge for me. You can find a huge selection of films, music and of course, books but I normally head straight for their separate English bookshop with its comfy chairs. They're open until midnight almost every evening.


Films can be tricky in Berlin unless you only watch German ones or don't mind dubbing, except at Berlinale time. I tend to favour English language or original versions which is probably the reason I haven't beeen inside the International yet which I've heard is the nicest cinema in Berlin. In the meantime, here are my choices:

Cinestar Sony Center (Tiergarten, S-/U-Potsdamer Platz) - I'm going to start with my most contraversial choice which may produce a wave of protest from film lovers in Berlin. It's not the nicest cinema and yes, it's a multiplex showing Hollywood rubbish but first there's the advantage of being able to see films in the original English version and without subtitles and they do have indie or less mainstream films too. It's  overcrowded with popcorn munchers at the weekend but I love to come here for matinées, especially in summer, when you're almost alone and have the feeling you're skipping school.

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Arsenal (Tiergarten, S-/U-Potsdamer Platz) - This is the rough equivalent of the BFI in London, showing classic or rare films alongside festivals on a particulr theme or director. Perhaps my favourite.

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Hackesche Höfe Kino - Up above the guided tours gathering the courtyard below, you can climb the five flights of stairs to this great cinema which shows films from the around the world in the original version. The best time to come is for the first screenings on Sundays which don't have adverts.

Lichtblick Kino (Prenzlauer Berg, U-Bahn Senefelder Platz) - This is perhaps the tiniest cinema I've ever been in. Perfect for hot summer days when the structure of the building makes it deliciously cool. They have an unusual and varied programme where classics mix with modern films but you can also see Casablanca every Saturday night and Wim Wenders' Himmel Über Berlin every month.

Neues Off (Neukölln, S-/U-Bahn Hermannplatz) - I haven't been to this place very often but I love the auditorium and the plush feel of the turquoise seats.


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I'm going to be honest, for all my gourmandise, I tend to buy my bread from Alnatura, an organic chain, simply because I can be sure they haven't made it dark by using malt and because it's close to my home. But if I have a little more time or fancy something different, I can recommend:

Brot und Butter (Charlottenburg, U-Bahn Ernst Reuter Platz) - For their delicious dark sourdough bread. There's also a nice range of cheeses and cakes and you can enjoy coffee and lunch at one of the tables. Service could be friendlier and it's kinda pricey but never mind.

Aux Délices Normands (Charlottenburg, S-Bahn Messe Nord ICC)  - The bread from this French bakery is truly delicious but what I go there most for is the amazing cheesecake. Go early to avoid disappointment; there's not much left at the end of the day.

The Croissanterie (Neukölln, S-/U-Bahn Hermannplatz) - Getting decent croissants in Berlin is something of a challenge. In a regular German bakery you should rather opt for a Laugencroissant which are normally delicious. But if you insist on having a French style one, head to Galeries Lafayette on Friedrichstraße or here which offers a wonderful range of freshly baked ones, both sweet and savoury.

Or alternatively, you could buy bread from my favourite market on Karl August Platz in Charlottenburg on either Wednesdays or Saturdays. The Brotgarten stand is especially nice.

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Viel Spaß! I'll be back with some Danish recipes soon.

22 commentaires:

  1. Danke für die Empfehlungen! Ich wusste von Datscha überhaupt nicht. Wenn ich Sehnsucht nach der russischen Küche habe, dann gehe ich und probiere.
    Cinema Café ist immer voll. Ich weiß nicht, wann ich lieber hingehen soll, um freien Platz zu kriegen... :)

  2. Je reviendrai lire ce guide, et je m'en souviendrai le jour ou je visiterai Berlin.
    C'est tres difficile de faire le pas, de quitter les lieux que l'on a aime, de refermer les portes derriere soi. Bon courage. J'espere que ce grand saut sera pour le mieux.

  3. What an awesome list! If ever I visit Berlin, I'll make sure to check out some of those places....

    Goodbyes are always hard and sometimes we'd like to avoid them by leaving earlier than planned.



  4. what a nice round up - i've already jotted down a few of these to visit! :)

  5. Having made the transition last month and in the process of trying not to be overwhelmed by the shocking unfamiliarity of my own home country, I completely understand your fears. You are so right about being homesick when away, and then longing for that other life when at home. Life, oh life!

    I shall keep you in my prayers. All the best for the move.

  6. Mais si, je trouve ça très courageux de partir à l'aventure, de faire ce grand saut dans l'inconnu.
    Merci pour ce guide de Berlin, que je garde précieusement pour un voyage bientôt, j'espère. Dommage que tu quittes Berlin avant que j'aie pu venir...

  7. So beautifully written. The pull back and forth, I feel it when I read your words.

    I made a big move in college... thinking it the first of many. Then I stayed in NY. It was my place. Lately, I wonder about that. Even later in life we can feel a pull to reorient. I often wonder if there is a little compass within us that directs us, if only we can stop long enough to feel it. I hope you find where you should be now and open a new chapter in your life. Be well.

  8. @I.S - Bitte schön, ich bin sehr froh, dass es dir gefällt. Datscha finde ich ganz toll, obwohl ich weiß nicht, ob das essen richtig authentisch russisch ist. Zupfkuchen ist eher eine deutsche erfindung habe ich gehört aber na ja, die Stimmung ist trotzdem nett. Hmm, mit dem Cinema Café das kann ich mir gut vorstellen, da Hackescher Markt sowieso sehr touristisch und voll ist. Ich war einmal am Sonntag nachmittag im Herbst da und es war total leer. Vielleicht lieber in der Woche, ganz früh oder nach dem Sommer wieder probieren?
    @Gracienne - Merci de ton soutien et de ton encouragement - ça m'aide et tes billets sur l’Angleterre m'ont vraiment donné mal de pays. Il y a tant de chose qui me manquent là-bas et que j'ai hâte de redécouvrir.
    @Rosa - Yes, sometimes I feel like packing up immediately in order to avoid this long, drawn out process but obviously, my friends would be so disappointed. I'm sure it's for the best but moving on can be hard.
    @Ana - Oh good, I hope you like them.
    @Suman - Thanks so much for your kind words at this time. It helps to know I'm not alone and that others have been there before me and gotten through it. Often I try to imaine what it will be like to live full-time in the UK and think it will take some getting used to. Hope you're settling in a little better now. Take care.
    @MM - Tu me dis souvent que je suis courageuse et je n'a pas du tout l'impression de l'être mais ça me donne quand même temps un peu te courage! J'essaie de vivre au jour le jour sans trop penser à l'avenir car je ne sais pas encore ce que je vais devenir mais si j'arrive à trouver enfin un CDI dans un pays que j'aime bien, je serai si contente. Oui, c'est dommage qu'on n'aie pas pu se voir à Berlin, tu aurais pu rester chez moi mais tant pis. J'espère qu'on arriveras bientôt à se voir, peut-être à Paris. Bises.
    @Deana - Thanks friend. I've spoken to so many people who experience such a pull, even those who've been here for so long which surprised me. I guess we always leave a part of ourselves behind and continue to be shaped by where we're from that it's not so easy to lose that. Sounds like NYC is the right place for you though. I know that I'll always feel torn between people and places, plus the languages I speak but I'm looking forward to being back in Derbyshire so a while too.

  9. wow, it sounds like there's a big change coming up for you. i'm moving again soon too, to a city about three hours north of helsinki. i know exactly how you feel about being torn between places and also about being a foreigner in one country, and then also feeling like a foreigner in your own. being in the united states makes me feel very finnish, being in finland makes me feel more american. it's interesting. i too am restless and feeling uncertain about new changes - but i have to believe they are for the best. i hope your return home brings you nothing but good. your berlin guide is so detailed and looks and sounds just wonderful. a reason to visit berlin!

  10. Yes, it is a very big step indeed, although somehow I've come to terms with it gradually. At first I used to look around me and feel sad to be leaving it all but now I feel calmer somehow and that I'd like to do something different. It's just the final steps that freak me out a bit and, of course, saying goodbye will be hard. You know how it is too to be so torn but at the same time, I wouldn't have wanted to miss any of this and am so glad of the experience so it's definitely worth the heartache at the end of the day. I can't imagine always living in the same place your whole life and only speaking one language. Good luck with your move - hope you enjoy your new home, whereever your journey takes you.

  11. Now's the time for change and travel...while you're young and single. I know it's scary, but change always results in growth. Taking chances is so important. What a wonderful and fascinating life you're having and I thank you for sharing it with us!

  12. Now I really want to do some traveling!

  13. I can imagine how you must be feeling Emily Vanessa. Change is always good though. That's what I believe. I don't know why people associate going back home with failure or cowardliness. On the contrary, I think it takes a lot of guts to trust your instinct and follow your heart.

    Thanks for the Berlin guide. I have never been to Berlin even though I have a few friends there. It will come in handy when I do decide to travel there!

  14. Very well written ! I totally understand how you are feeling... No matter how many times I move I never get used to the melancholia of leaving a place which has become home. But fortunately experience has taught me that moving, while a little scary, is usually only a first step towards new adventures and new friends.

    So have a great move, and bon courage with the soul searching - I'm looking forward to hearing about your lazy English summer ! :)

  15. Hey,

    Im currently living in Paris and I have been thinking about going to Berlin for a few months for long time now so I was looking for something to read about Berlin, someone personnal experience of it and I found your blog and this is precious. Makes me wanna pack my stuff and go there right away!

    1. Yes, do it! I'm sure you'd love it here. Hope my guide is useful for your visit. Berlin is a truly great city - so relaxed and easy with plenty more space compared to Paris. Summer and autumn are especially nice times to come here too.

  16. Your summer seems a great next step, space to step back and contemplate your future. Enjoy. And I will save your notes here. Who knows when I might end up in Berlin.

  17. This post is a tour de force. You covered a lot of ground here. Excellent post.

  18. C'est toujours un plaisir de visiter ton blog :)

  19. Coucou Emily ! Merci pour ce précieux cadeau ! J'aurai tant aimé venir à Berlin tant que tu y étais et te retrouver dans l'un de ces lieux... mais j'ignore quand l'occasion d'y aller se présentera. Et de toute façon, ce sera trop tard :-( Je suis très contente quand même d'avoir ces adresses et je me suis déjà empressée de les communiquer (via ton blog) à une amie qui projette de partir à Berlin bientôt. Pour moi, les voyages se font rares ces temps-ci. Pour tout te dire, je viens d'ouvrir mon café "suédois" dont voici l'adresse :
    Je te laisse découvrir ;-) Je n'ai pas eu le temps d'en parler encore sur mon blog...
    J'ignore quels sont tes projets à toi, mais je ne peux que t'encourager à suivre ton élan et à aller de l'avant comme tu le fais, même si cela doit passer par un retour en arrière. C'est très courageux à toi et je t'encourage très fort !! Grosses bises et bon week-end berlinois. Julia*

    PS : Bientôt, il n'y aura qu'à traverser l'Océan pour se voir ;-)

  20. @Barbara - I have good role models in you and your daughter. I say that it's a journey and the worst thing that can happen is that I learn more about myself. It's just painful now packing up and getting ready to leave.
    @Lecia - Yes, do it!
    @Magda - I hope my guide inspires you to come here sometime - it would have been nice to meet you here but I'm sure it'll happen elsewhere someday. Thanks for the words of encouragement. I agree that change it good so I simply have to take the plunge. At the beginning I felt a little ashamed about returning home but now I couldn't care less what anyone thinks and know it's right for me.
    @Sonja - It's so lovely to come here and read comments from people who know what you're going through. Certain things won't get any easier but I know that there are still good times to come. Soul searching is simply a part of who I am.
    @Denise - I once heard a talk by someone recommending us to just go away for a while and think about who we are and what we really want to do so this summer will be a good point to do that at last. I'm looking forward to sharing my adventures here too.
    @Desmond - Oh, how great to hear from you! I hope you're well and thanks for the lovely comment.
    @Lefrancbuveur - Merci beaucoup!
    @Julia - Coucou! Ah, quelle chouette nouvelle. Je m'en doutais que tu avais de grands projets mais un café suédois, c'est trop bien. Mon seul regret, c'est que ce soit trop loin pour moi de prendre un café et un sandwich tous les jours. Moi aussi je t'encourage avec tes projets et tu me donnes beaucoup de courage de suivre mon chemin. Parfois il faut simplement sauter dans le vide. Heureusement je compte rester en Europe, donc, la possibilité de traverser l'océan pour se voir reste loin ;-). La Manche peut-être. Bises.

  21. For some reason I idly googled 'proust berlin,' the two things that've preoccupied my thoughts most the last week, and I found your blog! this is a really great post, thank you so much! I'm going on an Erasmus year from Leeds to Berlin in September and just reading some of the stuff here gets me a little giddy with anticipation and a little less terrified. I hope your move goes well!