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.
Sasaya (Prenzlauer Berg, U-Bahn Eberswalder Straße) - For some of the best Japanese food in Berlin look no further. Reservations recommended.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Viel Spaß! I'll be back with some Danish recipes soon.