Monday, 30 July 2012

The Chocolate Afternoon

How did I manage to leave Fassbender & Rausch without entering a sugar-enduced coma?
This afternoon I took the kids on a small chocolate tour of Berlin. Very small. We only covered the Gendarmenmarkt area of Berlin, the bit where you have the Französische Dom and Deutsches Dom - it's just behind Friedrichstrasse. I have been waiting to take the pair of them to the Ritter Sport shop for ages, but I keep forgetting to do it. In fact if I am honest, I've been hoping that we could stay in Berlin for another 3 years purely based on the Ritter Sport place off Friedrichstrasse. And the reason is because you have to be a minimum of 7 years old to have a shot of wearing a little Ritter Sport white lab coat and getting to go down to the basement to design your own chocolate. Alternatively, I'd be happy if any of you could find a machine that would take 30 years off my age and to hell with the kids; I'll take a day off school and go myself. 

The Ritter Sport shop, buzzing with like minded souls.

So, anyway, this was our first time there and it's a chocolate lovers dream. Seriously. You walk in and there's a huge queue of people waiting at a counter to request a member of Ritter Sport staff to pour melted chocolate into a mould for them and then sprinkle 1 of about 40 toppings on it. It then gets stuck in a fridge for a bit and then popped out of the mould, packaged and sold to you. Yum.

Behind this area is the shop where you can buy a huge range of Ritter Sport chocolate. They have teeny ones, normal sized packs, and huge carrier bags of the stuff. Actually I was very tempted to buy a carrier bag of it - it was only 13 Euros something, which seemed like a total bargain. But I restrained myself, cause I know I would have wanted to eat it all in one night.

No chocolate is too big for us.

Instead I let the kids choose a block each from a massive wall of chocolate. Each bar is only around 85 cents, so that seemed pretty good value to me, and we bought a special '100 years of Ritter Sport' bar for my dad. My mum will be delighted, seeing as he's a diabetic too. Upstairs you can learn all about the process  of making chocolate and visit the cafe. It's a lovely place and I would have been very tempted to stay and try out some of their cakes, but I reckon their cafe is actually dearer than the one on the other stop on our chocolate tour. Because just at the corner of Charlottenstrasse you'll find Fassbender & Rausch.

Fassbender & Rausch in Gendarmenmarkt.

If you want to make your chocolate-loving heart skip a beat, then this is the place to come. It's gorgeous. It's all lovely and dark and chocolatey inside with a distinctly old-fashioned feel - the way a chocolate shop should feel. Darkened glass cabinets with row apon row of stacked chocolate in all the colours of the chocolate rainbow. Turn a corner and there are more dark cabinets filled with just enough gorgeously presented little desserts to make you instantly justify their price as something you deserve. I wish I had visited this place sooner. It's just lovely. And it's the perfect place to send all your touristy friends. Not only can they immerse themselves in the enveloping chocolatey smell that draws you in at the door, but they'll also have the added bonus of seeing all the sights made out of chocolate while they are there, including the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, the Gedachtniskirche, and um... the Titanic. Who cares, there's the possibility that they might bring you back something. It's got to be worth it!

It's so unfair to keep it behind glass.

The staff all speak German and English which makes it even easier to buy chocolate. I decided to ask about the chocolate factory they have in Tempelhof, to see if it was worth going to with the kids. Apparently it is essentially a factory shop (which sounds like it might have good discounts), which has a big window where you can look into the workshop. They said that you can see 'more' in the actual shop, and I guess it probably would be better for kids in the shop. Anyway, I got rewarded for carrying out my conversation in German with a little 'under the counter' piece of chocolate, and the kids each got a bit too. So there's my top tip: take some kids, and ask each member of staff a question in German, and see if you can score some free squares of chocolate off of them.

Bread-making for beginners

What do you do in Berlin with two kids when it's pouring down with rain? Well, as much as you might enjoy lying in bed listening to the rain absolutely pounding off the pavement below, some people will still be begging to be taken to an outdoor pool. Time to suggest something different. Bread-making! Dead easy. 

Bread-making for beginners:

1. Clear your kitchen of all things you hold dear. Except children. (Though for better results, perhaps tell them to get lost too.)

2. Prepare yourself mentally by getting all the bowls, spoons, mixers, jugs, water, etc, etc, ready in advance. This will save you from having a minor meltdown later when you turn to get something, and turn back seconds later to discover half the bread mix on your ceiling.

3. Assign tasks to each child to avoid needless bickering/crying. One can pour the mix into the bowl, one can pour the water. 

4. Give each child a shot of the mixer until you realise that it is struggling due to the fact that it's around 40 years old, and not one of these new-fangled (much desired) food mixers/processors with a bread mixing hook. Give up, and tell them to get stuck in with their hands. 

5. As you watch them delve in, you may find yourself wondering if they did in fact wash their hands beforehand, or whether they just did that thing where they trick you by turning on the bathroom tap for a minute. Banish these thoughts from your mind: in a moment you're going to go right off the idea of ever eating this bread anyway as they scrape bits of mix off numerous surfaces around the kitchen and add it back into the bowl.

6. Once the mixing process is complete, attempt to scrape 75% of the mix off of your children. Become so covered in the process that you forget to care and just dump it back in the bowl and shove it in a pre-warmed oven to rise. 

7. Follow your children through to the bathroom to clean up and discover your lovely Cath Kidston towels now contain 33% more carbs than they did an hour ago while the tap remains untouched. Suck back the tears. It'll wash out.

8. Return to oven 40 minutes later and discover that the heat had been too high and you have kind of already started baking the bread. Remove from bowl and toss onto a baking tray. Turn up the oven and bake for a further hour. 

9. Remove from oven and delight in the absolute lack of fresh-baked-bread smell. (How can that be?). Cut into massive (still slightly doughy) chunks and make your partner eat it as punishment for going off and enjoying himself at football. Feel happy that your kids feel utterly proud of their achievements in the kitchen, and enjoy your sandwich (sneakily made with bread from the bakery)

When I was young I used to do a lot of baking with my parents. I really enjoyed the process of bringing different ingredients together and making something that to my eyes looked pretty amazing. Around the age of 7 or 8 I got into making bread. We had a great cupboard that got loads of heat from the central heating boiler which was perfect for leaving your bread to rise. Bread-making doesn't need to be a faffy process involving yeast. I started off using bread mixes I got at the supermarket, and always felt really pleased with the results I got. Nowadays the range of bread mixes is far greater than when I was a kid, so you can find something to suit most kids taste. We've also had some really great results with some sun-dried tomato bread. Despite my slightly negative slant, I actually really enjoy baking with the kids. It's good fun for all of us and they really do feel chuffed with what they produce. They also tend to eat what they make, which makes me happy, as they don't eat so much bread otherwise. Same goes if I get them involved in making dinner - they are always keener to eat it, especially if they get to try little tastes of it during the cooking process.

(You can see more of the things we've been up to in the summer holidays here on the page 'Something... to do in the summer holidays')

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A date with Hugo

I could be a dog-napper you know. I wouldn't put it past me. I've been broody for a little daschund (or Mummy dog, as they are known in this house) since before we came to Germany. And today we had a date with Hugo. He's lovely. So gentle, patient, happy to be patted, willing to let children squabble over who gets to 'walk' him. I could happily have taken him home. I'm pretty sure I could have got round Stevie by saying he's much better behaved than our 2 children, *and* he'll eat all the crumbs under the dining room table, *and* all the bits of snack bar, old toast, half digestives, etc, etc that can be found on the edge of the bathroom sink, or under cushions. I might need to help him up to the edge of the bathroom sink, but I wouldn't mind. Honest.

I'd never met Hugo before today, and rather funnily, I'd never met his 'mummy' or her little boy either. But in the strange expat world I inhabit, Hugo's mum (as I shall call her for ease) & I have about a dozen mutual friends on Facebook, and would often communicate with each other through commenting on other people's posts, and as we got on pretty well, we ended up becoming Facebook friends, and then today we finally met face-to-face. I was slightly worried that it would feel like a first date; I had a lot of questions for her: not quite "What's your favourite colour?", but as we don't have a shared history there was a lot I didn't know about her, and how she came to be here. But it was lovely. We all had a great time, the kids loved her little boy, and we had a rare opportunity for dog-patting.

After lunch we headed back home, and it just happened that we went down a staircase at Zoo station that we don't normally use. At the bottom we found a big glass case with loads of tracks and little people & buildings, & trains that you can control if you stick a Euro in the slot. It was a lot like Loxx Miniatur Welten in Alex. It looked kind of cool, especially as there are about 4 trains you can control and change direction and slow down and speed up, but the enthusiasm of my two wore thin pretty quickly. They found another machine that took money that they'd like to control. Oh well, I try...

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Berlin's Tiergarten

Berlin is great for it's outdoor green spaces. It needs to be: being a city of apartment dwellers, we all need a little bit of garden somewhere, a place to stretch our legs, a place to grill, a place to indulge our FKK tendencies in the city centre, ha, ha! Berlin's Tiergarten is pretty much my local park. I don't use it anywhere near as much as I should. And frankly I don't know why. 

I decided to take the kids there today for a picnic and a run around and a play in the Spielplatz we often see from the bus on the way to Legoland. Today was perfect. The weather has warmed up nicely to where it should be at this time of year, and according to the BBC we are going to be experiencing 31 degrees all week. Hamish couldn't get to sleep last night until 9:30pm, so I knew anything too strenuous would be a killer for him and I couldn't face being too far from home with him whining. 

We walked all the way there and it was just about time for lunch when we arrived so we had our picnic which was far less relaxing than I had envisaged. I dream of lying back on the picnic blanket with my book, while the kids play nicely around me. I'm deluded. I took my book, but I only managed to read a page and a half, and I couldn't lie down, because Hamish found that big stick in the top photo, and he was swinging it around like a ninja supposedly "sorting the mole hills", but there was a very real danger either myself or Orla would end up unconscious unless we kept our eye on the ball. 

We were just starting to walk towards the Spielplatz which lies about half way along Tiergarten Strasse, when a taxi bike came along behind us and then stopped and asked if we fancied a free lift as he was going our way anyway. Seriously, there is nothing nicer than being done a good turn, is there? We loved it! We've never been in one before, but it was so nice to try even though it was only for 5 minutes. It certainly perked up our day and the kids are desperate to tell their dad their thrilling news!

The playground is pretty good. If we had a Spielplatz star rating system it would score highly for the hand operated sand digger which we've not seen in any other playground. Hamish was in his element. The kids managed to dig a trench from the end of the water pump (which can be seen in the background) ending in a pool near the digger. Can't beat a bit of engineering fun, can you?

If you want a bit more history about the Tiergarten, take a look at AndBerlin's recent post:

Monday, 23 July 2012

The British are coming!

I'm broken. Honestly, I'm knackered. And it's not like we've done anything amazing today. I took the kids to Steglitz for a decidedly British outing today. We started off by going to Berlin's very first Primark for a nosey. There's been a lot of excitement about the opening of Primark here: all the British expats were excited beyond imagination: it's not like the opening of a Primark in the UK. This was big news. Aside from H&M there really hasn't been any outlet offering cheap clothing in Berlin, and certainly not at Primark prices. I've never been a big fan of Primark to be honest, but even I couldn't have put off a trip much longer! So we went there and bought a few little things and it all felt very familiar.

Free entertainment at Toys R Us. (Hamish's face is enough to tell you I didn't put a coin in!)

After that I took the kids for a look round Toys R Us. As hard as it might be to believe, I managed to get out without buying a single thing. I used the 'list' technique. My sister once told me about this; where everything that they ask for/whine about you just tell them to put it on their list (for Christmas/next birthday/etc, etc) and they seem quite satisfied with that. You'd never believe how well it works.

Sand fun & mini trampolining

The small kids section.
Then we scooted round the back of Toys R Us to the Spielplatz on Bornstrasse which is excellent and has very good sized areas for both small kids and bigger kids all based around a circus theme. We spent a good hour there, before embarking on our next British expedition: by heading along the road to Broken English on Lepsiusstrasse. There are 3 branches of Broken English in Berlin, but Steglitz is probably my favourite. They sell a wide range of British food and drink and cards and teapots and tartan rugs, and will even get you out of a spot of bother when you need a flag for some sort of British-themed dress up event foisted on you at the last minute by the school.

Broken English, Steglitz

I am a regular visitor. I go every couple of months to stock up on Robinson's Apple & Blackcurrant squash. It's the only thing that we haven't been able to 'give up' since we moved here. Of course it's an awful lot more expensive than in the UK but I guess there are enough expats with things they can't live without to keep them in business. Anyway, it's a great wee shop. It's nice just to go in and sigh at the thought of *maybe* buying Ready Brek. Or some Walkers crisps. And obviously there are people here who really like Fray Bentos pies, because there seemed to be quite a selection of those.

Life's essentials.

We made do with 6 bottles of Robinson's, a 2 litre bottle of Irn Bru (for Stevie), and 2 packets of Cadbury's chocolate buttons. I won't tell you how much it cost. Believe me, the cost to my shoulders as I had to carry it all back in a backpack was more. Our final stop was at Hugendubel. I've started frequenting the Steglitz branch a little more since my closest one on Tauentzienstrasse closed. The Steglitz one has a reasonably sized English section, certainly far better than the Hugendubel franchise in the KaDeWe.

Life's even more essentials

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Gärten der Welt

Plattenbau architecture along Landsberger Allee
A couple of days ago I found out that the style of box-like, post-war architecture so common in Berlin is known as Plattenbau. And just this minute, I stuck that into Google Translate and discovered that that means 'Prefab'. I shouldn't be surprised. There are mixed views on this style of architecture in Berlin. Some people want to see it knocked down, and certainly there are groups of architects who don't even consider this architecture. But there are others who want at least some of it preserved; that it too has it's place in Berlin's history, and should rightly stand shoulder to shoulder with Berlin's many other styles of architecture. Love it or hate it, the best place to see it in all it's glory is along Landsberger Allee which takes you from Mitte out to Marzahn in the east of the city. You really feel like you are in an entirely different city. It's just block after block. It gives you a feeling of travelling through the old east imagining what life was like in the DDR days before the Wall came down. I particularly liked the Russian supermarket (above) advertising caviar.

We headed out along Landsberger Allee on Saturday, making our way to Gärten der Welt. It's one of the places I have most wanted to visit since we moved to Berlin, having read about it in the guidebooks. The time never seemed quite right though. I had thought that the kids would be bored silly and we'd spend about 20 minutes there before having to leave, but now that they are a bit older they were fine. And it is really lovely. So worth going. It's a big park just behind Landsberger Allee which has numerous 'Gardens of the World', hence the name. 

The big draws seem to be the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean gardens (photos below) and certainly from the number of bridal parties walking around, it seems to be the place to go to get your wedding photos taken. There are a few playgrounds for the kids and an excellent maze which takes ages to get in and out of. I just wish I knew more about plants and flowers because I reckon it would be utterly brilliant if you had a little knowledge on plants from around the world. Anyway, we had a great time, and it was definitely worth visiting.

Orla in the Chinese Garden

Japanese Garden

Korean Garden


Saturday, 21 July 2012

Touching Nemo's cousins

We took a little trip to Berlin Zoo's aquarium yesterday. There are two aquariums in Berlin: one attached to the Zoo, and the Sealife Centre, which is near Museum Island in Mitte. We've been to both a few times, and both have their merits. The Zoo aquarium is much cheaper than the Sealife Centre especially when you lie about your kids ages. I should be paying for Orla now that she's turned 5, but given that the German kids don't believe she's tall enough for her age, I figure we might as well make the most of it. I just have to make sure the kids are out of earshot when I lie about their ages, or they'll land me in it.

Anyway, as a result we get in for 6 Euros as I have a Jahreskarte for the Zoo and thus you get a discount. We have been to the aquarium many times before. We have worked out a set route around the place. Once through the turnstile we make for the coy carp pool. Germans are awfully keen on touching animals and penguins and fish and stuff. Over the course of the past two years I have become less horrified and disgusted by this. I just can't help but think that my two will swish their hands around, pick up some vile bacterial illness, and then suck their fingers clean before I get a chance to antibacterially boil wash them. Because unlike in the UK, you don't find 'hand-sanitising units' right next to the dirty animals. You are expected to just take your dirty animals to the toilets which could be up to a kilometre away.  

Once we've finished with the coy carp we go searching for Nemo. That is all they want to do. Usually we can find him straight away, along with his dad, and his little friends. The aquarium have upped their game though and this time, we couldn't find Nemo. He must be there somewhere, but we gave up on that game as the other thing we like to do is dash round the whole place in as little time as possible, ticking off all our favourites, but barely stopping long enough to even find out what some of the fish are called. After all there's an ice cream vending machine upstairs that's going to require a hell of a lot of begging and whining.

We all like the jellyfish. They keep a bunch of them in a tube shaped tank near the front beside the lift. They light it brilliantly so that they all glow as they pulse around in the water. At the moment this tank is full of teeny tiny ones, and the bigger ones are further along as you walk along towards the ugly fish and the shark in the tanks at the end. The shark is pretty amazing to see. I imagine he's bored out of his brain, but it's great to be up against a full height tank and have him sweep past your face. 

Upstairs, the whining and the moaning starts about the ice cream machine, but we manage to offset this by reminding them that they've got crocodiles to see first. On this floor there is a central atrium bit that is climate controlled. You enter on either side via glass doors and stand and look down from a bridge on the crocodiles and turtles. I saw the above photo in there and was quite relieved that times have changed and the  crocodiles have less opportunity to interact with the visitors nowadays. Perhaps a few German children got a bit too enthusiastic with touching the animals.

There's another floor above where the crocodiles and turtles and snakes are that has all sorts of creepy crawlies and frogs and things. But given the desperation for ice cream and the fact that I have no change for the machine we decide to make a hasty exit and head for Wittenburg Platz to an ice cream cafe. I love the stained glass windows on the landing, and I love the ceramic border featuring fish and crustaceans on the other staircase. They are almost worth a visit on their own.

Fish: Seriously, how long until the schools go back???

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Endless Adventures in Groupon: The dark restaurant

Last night Sarah and I tried out another Groupon deal. This was one that we'd both been looking forward to for aaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggggeeeeeeeeeessssss. Seriously, ages. And that's even with everyone we know telling us that it's abysmal; the food sucks, that it's just for the tourists, that it's all just an expensive gimmick. But you know, when you fancy trying something for yourself, sometimes it doesn't matter what 40 independent reviewers say, you still want to give it one bad star rating yourself.

Pink Vespa on the way to the restaurant, the wrong restaurant.

So last night was the night. Sarah was in charge of printing out the voucher and bringing it with her (not that I'm saying anything about when we went on our Die Welt hot air balloon trip...) and I was in charge of getting myself there on time. A task that I am spectacularly bad at. I gave myself an hour to get from my apartment across town to Noctivagus on Saarbruecken Strasse in Prenzlauerberg. Anyway, I made it with time to spare and probably a smug look on my face. I even had some time to take a few photos of things that caught my eye in the surrounding area. And then I sauntered back along to the restaurant and called Sarah who told me she was waiting for me. "Where? Are you in the Hof?", "Hof? What Hof?"......"Oh.You.Are.Kidding...."

Example of the kind of street art you can see 1km away from the right restaurant.

Because, you see, I hadn't seen the voucher or looked at the deal on Groupon, or even considered that there might be more than one dunkel restaurant in Berlin. So while I was outside Noctivagus, Sarah was about a kilometre away outside a bar/restaurant called 'Unsicht' on Gormannstrasse. Manno!.... 

Anyway, let's bypass the sweaty race across Prenzlauerberg, and get on with it. You enter into a bar which has rather nice subtle, low lighting. We were told to sit and wait for our waiter Ben who would tell us what to expect and take us through to our table. While we waited we chose our menu, both of us opting for vegetarian (honestly, I wouldn't trust that I wasn't just eating pigs eyeballs if I went for the meat option, and given what we'd heard about the food, vegetables seemed safer). You don't get to know what you're going to be eating as this is all part of the 'experience'. We also had a look at the drinks list, as we rightly suspected we wouldn't be able to read it at the table.

Cream dress: the perfect choice for not showing you've missed your mouth.
Then Ben, our waiter, came out and told us in his extremely handsome way (honestly, he was lovely looking! We were both quite taken by the lovely Ben) how we would get to our table - by forming a chain holding onto his shoulders, and how we were to turn off any illuminated devices we might have, and how we could call his name if we needed him (or just wanted to touch him in the dark :-D - my thoughts, not his words), and then we were off.

You enter the restaurant through a series of zigzags, the light disappearing more and more with each bend until you feel yourself weaving between tables in the total pitch black. You hear the clink of glasses all around, a general level of chatter from the guests, and in amongst all of this you hear the clicks of the waiters navigating their way from the kitchen to the tables. Have you heard of this technique that blind people can learn? Or as Wikipedia calls it, 'human echolocation' whereby you can sense where objects are by making a sound and sensing where the soundwaves are bouncing back.

Once we were seated we soon had our drinks and were getting used to being in the pitch black. Although they do try and get you to gain an understanding of what it's like to be blind by bringing you your drink in the bottle and handing you a glass to pour it into. Fun, huh? Having spent a good chunk of my post-Hamish's-birth time unable to see, this wasn't a problem for me. Not that I poured it effortlessly from bottle to glass with the finesse of someone who laughs in the face of changing dirty nappies blind, no: I simply drank from the bottle!

Our first course was soup. I guessed it was um... vegetable. It smelt like kind of homemade vegetable soup, but not overwhelmingly of any one particular vegetable. It was nice enough to be honest, and had the added interest of having what seemed like shredded wheat at the bottom. We got to look at the menu once the meal was over and we were back in the dimly lit bar and it turned out to be pea soup with shredded snow peas (which I've had to Google to find out that these are in fact mange tout).

The bar area. 

Ben was soon back to have a good feel of our hands and take our bowls away. Every so often you would hear someone swiping their drink off the table and the glass clattering off the floor, and while we waited for our mains, there was a huge crash of dishes which was presumably one waiter banging into another and dropping everything, which made me wonder how they went about clearing up spills during service. 

Our main course was a bit of a mystery at first. Sarah quickly found the tofu, while I seemed to be ploughing through quite a large pile of raw pepper. I had a quick feel of the tofu (I mostly ate my main with my fingers, after all no one could see me) and decided that I didn't want it. Tofu is for me like a kebab. I've never had it, but I have no desire to try it either. So I moved on to  the roasting hot cherry tomato in the middle of my plate. Yum. I had wondered if they really bothered about presentation with the food, or whether they served up like I do for two hungry kids who are so desperate to get their food that I just fling it on with a giant spoon. But I think they do take some care. The only item that confused us was the risotto which I thought (using my spidey-senses i.e. fingers) was lentils. Yes, I did stroll my fingers through a risotto and then lick them. And yes, I did slightly taste the pole I'd been holding onto on the u-bahn...ack! gack! Anyway, this course turned out to be tofu stroganoff with a cheese risotto. (no mention of the big pile of pepper).

A sneaky peek at the menu. I hope it changes all the time or I've just ruined the experience for you. Oops.
After another all too brief feel of Ben, we were on to dessert. We had a long wavy shaped plate with a little ceramic pot on it filled with what we rightly guessed was a coffee mousse. In fact it was a white coffee mousse, but we couldn't see that detail. Beside it we had a stamp-sized something that was like the best chocolatey caramel shortbread you have ever tried, and if I'd got to that first I would have felt my way across the table and stolen Sarah's off her plate before she knew she had it. Finally, beside the little pot of coffee mousse I dug my fingers through what Sarah thought was trifle, but what tasted like custard and the strongest sourest kiwi fruit jus you could imagine. According to the menu it was a mango-chilli sauce that was making my right hand all sticky. They do give you spoons incidentally, it's just I like to be able to identify my food before I put it in my mouth. Call me a nervous eater... or just plain lacking in table manners, I don't mind. 

And with that we were done. And while it seemed like the evening had just flown by with barely a gap between courses, it turned out that we along with another couple of women were the last people in the restaurant. We all formed a chain and made our way back into the bar where we discovered it was midnight and the rest of the waiting staff were finished up, having a drink at the bar and getting ready to leave. We left, both delighted with our experience after a thoroughly enjoyable night. Of course, we are both brilliant company, and witty conversationalists, so that was probably what made it so good. 

Nah, who am I kidding? We both came away thinking that having a lovely handsome man to grapple plates off of in the dark was, well, delicious!

Unsicht-bar (Germany's First Dark Restaurant):

or try the one I went to first...
Noctivagus (Berlin's First Dark Restaurant);

My other Groupon adventures:
Panoramapunkt - sightseeing from the top of Kollhof Tower.
Die Welt hot air balloon - sightseeing from Berlin's famous hot air balloon
Loxx Miniatur Welten - Mini Berlin with trains in the Alex shopping centre
Like I just stepped out of a salon - getting a Groupon haircut - eek

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Recommendations for those with a fear of loneliness

I'm practising at having claustrophobia. Unintentionally. And I'm starting to feel like I am getting quite good at it. Today we went to Stadtbad Schoeneberg, my all-time favourite indoor swimming pool, except that today I hated it. HATED it! Now admittedly I made a mistake in writing in my blog about what a wondrous place it is, cause now you meet folk in there that YOU KNOW! I like an empty pool. A pool that nobody else goes to. I'm ideally a villa with a private pool on holiday kind of girl. Stevie is my polar opposite and only enjoys pools that are busy. Anyway, Stadtbad Schoeneberg is closing for a couple of months as of tomorrow I think (which seems mad as it's the middle of the summer holidays for the German schools), so obviously EVERYBODY decided to go and make the most of it today. It was standing room only. Literally. Downstairs there was no room to even tread water, not that it stopped crazy nutters from doing handstands practically on top of people, or an old man from doing a really creepy floating thing where he was floating face down looking to all intents and purposes like he'd died. I pressed myself further into the side of the pool to avoid him touching me as he drifted past. The only thing that stopped me from alerting the lifeguard to the possible corpse, was the comfort of having 2 people snogging ultra passionately 2 inches from my cheek.

Outdoors is fine: especially if you want a Russian hat.

Giant star-shaped panic button for the claustrophobic.

Last week I went to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum or Mauermuseum on Friedrichstrasse. It's one of the places I've been planning on visiting for ages. The weather was a bit of a mixed bag; a little bit sunny, a little bit humid and dying to thunder. Anyway, the street was chock-a-block as usual with tourists, but I hadn't expected the museum to be *just as packed*! It was hideous. The museum itself is fine, great even, - though there's a lot of reading, but it was oppressively hot with so many bodies tightly packed in, squeezing past each other, ad there wasn't any air conditioning. Had I not paid Euros 12.50 to get in, I would have chucked it just to get some fresh air and some space. Instead I squeezed my way around with the rest of them, skim-reading a lot of stuff, bypassing an awful lot more, until I felt like I had got a reasonable amount for my money. Maybe it was just the time of year that made it *so* busy in combination with the weather, who knows, but I wouldn't be jumping at the opportunity to go back.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

School's out for summer!

The school year: September 2011 - July 2012
What a year! It seems like hardly any time at all since Orla started school, and now here we are, Reception year done and dusted. I tried to get her to pose the way she had on her first day, but there was no chance. Apart from the fact that she has just about completely outgrown that little hanky of a skirt and tiny polo top; the big difference is that she is well and truly knackered. A year at school takes it out of you. I'm not sure exactly how much she has learnt, but her reading is coming along really well, and I think she has a natural ability for maths (like her dad) when she's not busy talking non-stop (like her mum).

Looking at her, it seems at first that she hasn't changed. But she's so much taller, her legs are bruised and bashed to bits from tripping over in the forest, her fringe has *almost* grown out, and her feet are at least 2 sizes bigger. In this past year she's learned how to swim, how to cycle, her knowledge of society and the world has grown, and she's been to some really awesome parties! She's starting slowly to come out of her German-despising shell, and she's made some really good friends.

I've been looking forward to the school holidays. I've been needing some nice long Orla time, just to enjoy her company. I'm saying this now because I know that in a few weeks I will be banging on the door of the school begging them to open and take the wild animals off my hands.

And of course, this year I can also beg them to take Hamish too! He cannot wait to start!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Hello, Galeries Lafayette!

Macarons at Galeries Lafayette

My heart went 'ping!' today. I can't believe I've been here for 2 years and *not* visited Galeries Lafayette before now. It's not that I haven't been in the area; it's not that my loyalty to the lovely KaDeWe has prevented me from passing through a different store; it's just that about a decade ago I visited Galeries Lafayette in Paris and was a little underwhelmed. (Though I'm not sure why, probably my taste was just different)

Today though I had some time, and I thought 'why not?'. I was passing and I suddenly remembered a French guy in my German class saying that a lot of the French expats go there to buy really expensive yoghurt. What? Food hall? Expensive yoghurt? Why, doesn't that sound like it might be just like the KaDeWe?

Oh. My. God. It's lovely! It's smaller than the food hall in the KaDeWe, but it's beautifully, darkly lit, and it's like all the products you could ever need but in lovely French packaging! Oh to be a French expat with lots & lots of money! Not that they aren't catering for the Germans and the Brits. There are a selection of Cadbury's biscuits for the Brits and 5KG jars of Nutella for the Germans. (Why would you buy so much that you can barely lift it?). Oh and of course, the Americans haven't been forgotten: yup, they've shipped in more of that Fluff for you guys, ha, ha, ha! (scroll down for the photos)

Pretty cakes: I want to roll around in there with you with my mouth open.

I have very little use for these, but I just want to take them home, line them up and look at them anyway.
These can stay on the shelf though...

I want my peas to have a gold lid!
Beluga Linsen: One of life's essentials, surely???

I can't even imagine trying to explain to Stevie that I spent 40 euros on a tub of Nutella. 

Nuts: I've run out of photos.

You can find Galeries Lafayette at Friedrichstrasse 76-78 and online.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Adventures in Groupon: the Panoramapunkt, Potsdamer Platz

Did you know that the higher up in the air a building goes, the more expensive the drinks in the cafe at the top? That's a made up fact from me to you, but it's probably true. I don't mind too much paying 3 Euros for a coffee (though I'd rather not), but 3 Euros for 200ml of Diet Coke seems exceptionally steep. Which is quite appropriate really, give that yesterday we celebrated (belatedly) our 2 year anniversary in Berlin with a trip up to the top of Kollhof Tower in Potsdamer Platz.

Happy 2 year anniversary to us! Forget an additional child-free visit to a museum. Look below! It's the Legoland giraffe! (we renewed our Jahreskarten instead...pah! But great price- only 15 euros!)

I bought the tickets as a little trip out for me, Stevie, and my camera. We had intended using the voucher in May, while Orla was in school and Hamish was in Kita, so that we could maybe squeeze in a trip to the Checkpoint Charlie museum, but you know how it is. Things get in the way, and the time just seems to fly by. So we had the pleasure of Hamish's company who has now officially finished with Kita. On that subject I am wondering if I made a bad move there as he is now pestering me every day with "Do I start school today?".

The top of the Sony Center, close-up, & the Ritz (which has lots of greenery on its roofs)

Anyway, back to the Panoramapunkt. I was quite excited at the thought of this little trip. I had read that the building has Europe's fastest elevator, and it makes your ears pop on the way down, but really, they want to make it a glass elevator so you can actually *see* that you're shooting up in the air at the same rate as Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator. Otherwise it kind of doesn't feel like much. Get in a box with some other folk and Europe's boredest tour guide/lift operator, listen to him tell you how many floors there are and what speed you are going, and ping!, you're at the top. No! Let's have it in glass, and let's all cling to the sides screaming that we're going to die.

Other things you can go up: the Fernsehturm (& in fact there's a viewing platform at the top of the Park Inn behind), the  Siegessäule  (Victory column), & the Die Welt balloon

Once at the top you can have a little wander round, clicking away with your camera, cursing the railings that presumably are meant to stop you throwing yourself off, and you can read all about the history of Postdamer Platz through the past couple of hundred years in the exhibition that also encircles the walls of the building. It's quite good, and I never knew that clock thing that sits in the middle of Potsdamer Platz was actually a pre-war electronic traffic light, but I had wondered about the lights on it. The views from this floor and the viewing platform above are great, although you might struggle to tell that from my photos as I had my camera on the wrong setting and it was a bit of a hazy day. You can see as far as the Funkturm and Teufelsberg in Charlottenburg, and you get some great views of central Berlin.

See the sights! The Brandenburg Gate, the Jewish memorial (& rear of Gehry DZ bank) & the lovely Science Center Medizintechnik (I was surprised at the number of rooftop gardens there are)

I would highly recommend a trip up the Panoramapunkt, though I think I might have preferred the Die Welt hot air balloon a bit better which seems to give you views from as high up. Either way, both seem good value for money if you get them on a Groupon deal. With the Panormapunkt, we got 2 VIP Tickets which allow you to skip the queue (if there is one) and they give you a fold out panorama map showing you what all the important buildings are, and a guide book full of lots of interesting information and vouchers for freebies at other attractions. Not bad for Euros 9.50 for both of us!

Standard tickets cost Euro 5.50
VIP tickets cost Euro 9.50
Children under 5 are free

Panoramapunkt website (where you can book tickets)

My other Groupon adventures:
Unsicht-bar - eating in the dark restaurant
Die Welt hot air balloon - sightseeing from Berlin's famous hot air balloon
Loxx Miniatur Welten - Mini Berlin with trains in the Alex shopping centre
Like I just stepped out of a salon - getting a Groupon haircut - eek
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...