Monday, 30 April 2012

Hudson's Cakes & the best book group idea EVER!

You know how I pretty much can't cook? How a lot of the cakes I make even turn into swampy disasters? How IKEA tends to surpass me in culinary wonder? Well, you can perhaps imagine how anxious I felt at the prospect of going along to Hudson's Cakes in Kreuzberg on Friday night to join them for the most brilliant book group idea I have come across yet..... Cook Book Book Group! Or Cook Book Club as they call it because it's easier to say after a few beers, 3 soups, a main course, 4 desserts & coffee.

Hudson's Bakery, yum, yum. British tea, cakes and other things (and what lovely lights!)
So the idea is that someone suggests a cook book, and you choose something to make from it, then bring it along at the allotted time, and everyone tries a little bit of everyone else's, and then you all talk about the cook book. Doesn't that sound like far more fun than just a regular book group? Especially as pretty much everyone in Berlin can cook better than me. The cook book club has been running for quite a few months, and myself and Sarah from workingberlinmum have fancied joining in but have never been able to make it before this one. And this one was a cracker. The theme was 'Childhood favourites'. So that's chips and Creamola Foam, right? (I know, you'll never have heard of Creamola Foam, but give your stomach ulcer a treat and go and order some off eBay right now! There's even all new Irn Bru flavour, but I'd recommend the classics - the lemonade one was terrific. I used to think that there might not be a single natural ingredient in Creamola Foam it was that amazing.But I bet that's all changed now, progress, huh!)

Remnants of the Cook Book Club feast alongside what might possibly be me & Sarah's breakfast next Thursday

Getting back on topic, in all seriousness, I struggled a bit with this topic. I used to prefer skipping and playing with Playmobil back in the day and left all the cooking and bill-paying sorts of things to my parents. And when I think of what we ate when I was a child, the meal that sticks in my mind the most was that rabbit that my mum tried to get us to eat, and that's not a fond memory. There seemed to be a awful lot of chops in those days too. Until I came to Germany I can't think of the last time I heard anyone say they were "having chops for their tea". Not that I am spending my days engrossed in German chop chat, but I know they're eating them cause I've seen them. (in the shops that is, not hanging out of the Berliner's mouths).

No evening is complete without coffee and some photos.

So I phoned my dad, who's in charge of the cooking in my mum and dad's house. It didn't used to be that way, my mum did almost all of the cooking when my dad was out at work, but when I think of my mum's cooking I think of (a) that rabbit, (b) chops, & (c) coming home from school for lunch which was either a banana sandwich or Heinz tomato soup and homemade pancakes. The last one seemed like a good choice but I don't think I can get Heinz tomato soup here. Schade!

So my dad suggested two things: his cheese soufflĂ© which came from a recipe on a leaflet distributed in 1979 by the Egg Marketing Board. I love it, but it doesn't travel well on a longish ride on the U-Bahn, His other suggestion was broccoli & stilton soup. So I did that, except I used a Danish Blue cheese that turned out to be so overpowering, that I did the only thing possible and blamed my dad for it. Anyway, the whole evening was brilliant fun. We had tons to eat, and it worked out that we had a great balance of starters, mains and desserts to eat. Given that we didn't have much in the way of cook books to talk about, as most recipes came from mothers or other family members that had been passed on, we talked about a million other things instead. And it was all rather lovely and I'd very much like to go again! As a matter of fact, Sarah & I liked it so much that we're dropping by for breakfast later this week. Yum, yum, yum, though thankfully, we're not cooking.

If you are in Berlin you can find details of Hudson's Cakes & information about the Cook Book Club and other events they run on their Facebook Page

Friday, 20 April 2012

That's a 100 watt horse you got there, cowboy

I feel like our apartment needs more lighting. We have a problem with light in this place. The ceilings are so high, the rooms are big, and frankly we don't have anywhere near enough lamps. We laugh in the face of task-lighting! Recently the bulb in the main overhead light in Orla's room died, and when we Stevie climbed on top of the chair on top of the chest of drawers to change the bulb we discovered that it was a 200 watt bulb. You can't just get 200 watt bulbs in the supermarket or even in Bauhaus. You can get them on the internet but I have been a bit lazy about getting it and I thought a 100 watt bulb would do. Except it's dreadful. It's like weak candlelight. Anyway, I aim to address the lighting situation in this place at some point. And yesterday quite by chance, I found quite the perfect lamp.

You see, I was going to meet a friend and I had some time beforehand so I decided to have a peek inside  Stilwerk on Kantstrasse (o the corner with Uhlandstrasse). I'd always assumed that Stilwerk was one shop, but in fact it's like a rather cool shopping centre for expensive furniture and home decor design shops. I am almost alarmed that given I am a real lover of furniture porn, that it's taken me the best part of 2 years to visit it.

Stilwerk on Kantstrasse

It has a high proportion of shops that normally I only drool over in Elle Decoration, such as Kartell, B&B Italia, Ligne Roset, BoConcept, and a whole bunch of others that I had never even heard of stocking the kind of high-end furniture and lighting that makes me shed little happy tears.

Part of the Brazilian furniture design exhibition, & Kartell.

This chair is so impractical for Brazil. Just think: Metal + intense heat + bare legs + hole pattern = hot fleshy fishnets

Rainbow cups! Rainbow bowls! Rainbow plates!
20 Euros per cup which is bad enough, but when you consider that you'd want to have the WHOLE rainbow, it suddenly doesn't seem worth it to remortgage the house. Sniff.

There is also a great lighting shop on the ground floor which has some really beautiful, eyewateringly priced lamps and lights. But it turns out the also have 200 watt bulbs for just over 10 Euros, which is the best price I have come across. When I came out of there I had a wander round the Brazilian furniture design exhibition they have on view in both the main central walkway and on the third floor. And after that, I just happened to find myself drawn into B&B Italia which is where a rather nice salesman caught me slabbering over a storage system so luscious I would sell Stevie's kidneys to own it, and it was while we were talking I clocked the perfect lamp.

Now let me just start off by telling you that I'm not that into horses. Never have been to be honest. But a horse-shaped lamp that's so absurdly huge, really rocks my world. I even quite fancy having two of them, one at either side of the bed. Can you imagine how useful that would be? You could sling some saddlebags over it to keep your books and stuff in, and instead of flinging your clothes over a chair at night, you've got a whole horses back to fling them on to. You could hang your necklaces round its neck, why, it's sounding more and more practical by the minute! Alas there's no way that Stevie would let me buy two of them. He wouldn't even let me buy one of them. Priced at just over 4000 Euros, it gets vetoed for two reasons, 1) it's 4000 Euros (even though that's a whole lot of lamp for your money and probably (still doesn't) equate to IKEA prices if you work out how much it costs per square cm, and 2) it wouldn't fit into any room in our house back in the UK. But a girl can dream....... can't she???......................................

Ha, ha, ha, yeah, maybe we can't carry it off....

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Cheep, cheep! But not so cheep for the over 3's

MACHmit: there be giant chairs for people with cameras to have fun, and craft stuff galore going on.

This morning Orla and I went to MACHmit, the children's museum on Senefelder Strasse in Prenzlauerberg, which is sort of north-ish as regards Berlin. I hadn't heard of it before, but another blogger had alerted me to the fact that there are baby chicks hatching there up until the 22nd of April on a daily basis. And that's all the information folk like me and Orla need to know we want to go.

Even the baby chicks knew I got a new lens for my birthday that I was a bit clueless with. They tried their best to be in focus, but alas, all was lost.

 I mean what price do you put on seeing baby chicks hatching into this world? Well, I discovered it's probably not Euros 4.50 each. Maybe for me and my jaded adult eyes, but I can't help but think it's rubbish when they make you pay an adult price for anyone over the age of 3. Not of course that the chicks are the only thing going on there. In fact there's quite a bit, including a pretty ace climbing area of ups, downs, tunnels, and bridges. Our independent critic, ahem, branded it "Better than Bambooland". Really? Cause it's 3 floors of climbing, slides, trampolines, balls, blah, blah, blah, and something I've just found out is called a 'Wabbelberg'. But there you go, awesomeness cannot be measured in ball volcanoes alone.

The climbing thing with bridges so high off the ground floor it'd make a normal person crap themselves. Toilets, incidentally are in the cellar. 

Admittedly the place does look amazing. It's inside an old church which to say it's been converted is an understatement. The main part of the museum is on the ground floor and you then go up wooden steps and through a little gate to get to the play bit. Here you have access to both sides of the climbing area, which are joined together by a number of bridges - you can see just one of, I think, 4 in the photo above. Kids over 5 are allowed to go in climbing on their own, whereas poor misfortunates with under-5's must accompany them. I took full advantage of Orla's recent 5th birthday to not go in as I thought I might actually freeze with fear on one of those bridges, and have to get a school group of 8 year olds to shove me across.

Outside of the play area there are tables set up with activities for the kids to do, though most of these seemed set up for groups which had booked. They were making cheeping chickens out of plastic cups  and that sort of thing. There's also a cafe up there which looked quite nice, though all the chairs had crap screwed on to them like scrubbing brushes which was either meant to look 'arty & creative' or was for the sensory deprived. Who knows, but it was enlightening at least for me as I realised I quite like my chairs 'plain' so I've saved loads of time not starting a chair-enhancement project in the dining room.

Anyway, ignore me. I set out with the wrong mindset for this place, purely because it took us SO long to just get there. I don't venture into Prenzlauerberg all that often, and days like today where we started off on the U-bahn then had to change to a replacement bus service at Potsdamer Platz, then went about 800 metres to the next U-bahn stop, got back on, only to have to change back onto a bus again to get as far as Eberswalder Strasse, and the have a little walk to get to MACHmit, and then we couldn't stay much longer than an hour as we had to get back to collect Hamish from Kita.

So overall, we'd say 'Yay!' to the climbing place, & the baby chicks, and 'Urgh!' to the pricing and well... that's about all. So that's good, isn't it? Sounds like a hearty recommendation to me!

MACHmit: Senefelder Strasse 5, Prenzlauerberg, Berlin 10437
Bambooland: Goerzallee 218, Lichterfelde, Berlin, 14167

Monday, 9 April 2012

This weird Lego thing

Hamish doesn't really like drawing. Unlike Orla who is forever making birthday cards, and Easter cards, and especially Valentine cards, it's just not his thing. Instead he likes to make things from Lego. So for my birthday tomorrow, I might get something special made for me instead of a handmade card. I don't mind this: I don't get the chance to keep these creations, but I love the thought that goes into them just as much. In the past couple of weeks his Lego or Duplo building has taken on a life of it's own. It's not so much that the creations themselves are particularly amazing, but it's his knowledge or the description when you ask "What's that?" that has started freaking me out a little. So above, we have a boat made from Duplo, with a diving platform on the front. That's fine. I'm happy with the simplicity of that. That's what a 3 and a half year old does.

Next up (above) we have a crane. I like his cranes. They always have a counter-balance which strikes me as a good realistic touch. Again, I guess that's a pretty normal construction for someone his age.

Here (above) we have a submarine. With periscope. He had been playing in the same room as his dad and I assumed when he brought me a submarine that Stevie had finally told him the awful truth that he doesn't make meatballs for a living, but indeed is an engineer, and I assumed that he had been telling him that he used to work in the submarine section of Rolls-Royce. But he hadn't, and I have no idea where Hamish has seen a submarine before. Bear in mind that we have a very limited selection of tv programmes here, and I know we don't have a book with a submarine in it. So I thought, oh that's kind of good.

Then he made this, above. It looks like a crappy car, and normally he makes better cars than this, but then he started telling me about that bit on the right at the top. And this is where it started getting freaky. Because apart from the blocks holding it still under the middle, the reason they are needed apparently, is because what it has on the back as he described it to me and Stevie is a jet engine. Not that he knows that, or called it that, but he described it's functionality, and told us about how the cold air enters into the bit that rotates at the front and then goes through the middle portion which is attached to the car and makes it drive and then the hot air goes out through the bit that rotates at the fact he probably described it better than I did. Don't quote me. 

The next day, he built this. Looks like a tower, or two towers really. But he told me that what it does is that it takes dirty water in at the bottom of the wider tower. Then the dirty water is forced upwards through various levels where the dirt gets trapped each time. The big dirt gets trapped lower down, and then as you get up near the top it's taking out the small dirt. The water then travels over the top (well apparently it shoots out of the top in an arc like the fountain we saw the other day in the shopping centre, you know where it looks like the water is 'jumping'?) and then it travels as clean water down the narrow tower and at the bottom goes underground and is taken by pipes into peoples houses. I'm no civil engineer, but isn't he describing a water purification system???? I must ask my dad if that's how water purification systems really work, but anyway, HOW CAN HE KNOW THAT??

Is that not weird? So in case he ends up being some kind of genius engineer, I have started taking really rubbish photos of his early career. But I needed to be able to describe what he was telling me, so sadly, you may be getting a few Lego/Duplo updates.

Update: Well I went and did a bit of Googling, and apparently the closest thing to what Hamish has built is a micro-filtration system. Singapore (according to Wikipedia) is the only country currently to filter it's waste water to the point of being able to pump it back into people's homes it's called NEWater - though I always thought that they said that the tap water you drink in London has been through about 7 people before you??? No? Googled again, Thames Water tell you that only a tiny amount of recycled water will go through your system, which is because of the 150 litres each person uses per day, they only drink on average 2 litres of that. But it is treated and purified seeing as around 80% of London's water comes from the Thames and the River Lee. Yum! Right, as thrilling as this is, I'm done.

Schematische Darstellung des Mikrofiltrationsverfahrens zur Abwasserreinigung

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Walking, running, & skipping with dinosaurs

In a continuation of our Easter adventures, we went to Freizeitpark Germendorf, which was recommended to us by workingberlinmum, who went there recently. It's a bit of a trek to get there as it's outside Berlin, past Oranienburg in a little village called Germendorf where the land is most likely cheap as chips. Patently some genius was wandering along one day and thought to themselves, "What this place needs are giant replica dinosaurs dotted about the landscape. Throw in a few zebras and assorted antelope-thingys and they'll flock here in their droves, 850 car-loads at a time, and I'll be rich beyond my wildest dreams!"

And so that's what you have. Hamish has been chomping at the bit to visit this place since we heard about it, and it didn't disappoint him. I was a little worried that the kids would get bored after a few minutes because you can't actually get close enough to touch quite a few of the dinosaurs, but it was fine, and the prospect of getting to walk up to the top of the volcano turned out to be a bigger thrill than I could have imagined. At the top you can stand and look over the park and take photos of the very full car park (which incidentally costs only 50 cents a day - ah, if only airport car parks cost that, and they too are usually built on plots of land in the middle of nowhere). There's also a machine at the top of the volcano where you can pay a euro to presumably hear the sounds of a volcano erupting. Alas, we seemed to be up at the same time as all the other people who seemed quite happy to imagine the sound in their head and keep their euro for something else.

And there's a lot of other things to do in this place. Not only do you have the dinosaur park, but there is also the animal park where you can see a range of animals. It's not exactly on a par with Berlin Zoo, but they have a few zebras, quite a lot of monkeys, meercats, antelope, kangaroos (or possibly wallabies - they were quite small), goats, boar, and Shetland ponies. There were probably more, but as we started off with the animals, my two were getting edgy about 'missing' the dinosaurs, so I think we might have missed some.

In the summer I imagine this place could be utterly awesome. You really could easily spend a whole day here. In fact if you wanted, you could book into that hotel across the lake and spend a couple of days here, because aside from the animals and dinosaurs there are also lakes for swimming in, including some which are better suited for children. We even spotted on the map that they have an island that I think you could swim to which is populated by monkeys. Cool. We could play planet of the apes! And if you fancy a quieter activity, you could hang out with the anglers and stare at the end of a rod.

We however, had animals and dinosaurs to see, and had a lovely wander round the park. There are also quite a few playgrounds for kids and an area with undercover bouncy castles (which are free, yay!) and there is a little train track with a fire engine and some other vehicles that run round that presumably for around a euro a time, and a few other kind of fairground rides which again I don't think cost very much. All in, everything seemed really reasonably priced which was a nice bonus. In fact, for all four of us we only paid 10 euros for a full days entry.

Orla's highlight of the day was the horse ride. This was 3 euros and for that you get 3 rounds of the paddock or whatever it should be called. Orla is always keen on horse rides, but this was Hamish's first time. 

Despite the fact he looks very serious and somewhat glum, he actually was thrilled by the whole experience. He was just a bit disappointed that Orla's horse decided it wanted to take a big drink and so he didn't get to go round 2 out of his 3 circuits with her. 

After the horse rides, we saw the Shetland ponies. They had about half a dozen of them and contrary to the Shetland ponies I've met before they seemed pretty good humoured. The kids were charmed with the fact that they weren't much taller than them. I told the kids about the time my Aunty Sheena bought a Shetland pony and kept it in the back garden (which was huge). Anyway, it had only been at their house about half a day when we were there and I was the lucky one to get the first chance to ride it. No saddle, but I did have a helmet. Anyway, as soon as it was let loose with me (aged 11) on it's back, it made a run for it, jumped up onto the raised patio, raced across that, and then jumped up the steps and in through the open sliding patio doors. I don't remember being particularly scared, but I did choose to throw myself off once we were riding through the house. As I recall, nobody else was too keen to ride it after that.

So we had a great day. I would highly recommend this place. Hamish would really, really, highly recommend this place. He was begging us to take him back the next day. Even Orla who I wouldn't have said was particularly 'into' dinosaurs, seemed converted. We will definitely be back!

In prehistoric times the challenge of basketball was more getting such a small object through such a small hoop.

Further details on Freizeitpark Germendorf can be found on their website:

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Crackpots & cracking times

I should have said my name was 'Finja'. P.S Not only are our real names plastered all over the internet, you'll also find them on the wall at the Legoland Discovery Centre, Berlin.

Ah, the things I could tell you if only I had never set up this blog using my real name, and had never used photos of my family. Sometimes it's a curse! For example I would have been able to tell you an awesomely funny story of a truly horrific playdate I went on with the kids this week. You know it's not going well when you get asked round for coffee and you're the one who has to go for the milk, and you have to run faster than Paula Radcliffe there and back because Orla's parting words are "They're trying to take Hamish's trousers off!", and there's just something about the family that makes you just a little uncomfortable with that.

Alas, we're going to have to wait until either we've left Berlin, or they've left Berlin (and let's hope it's them, and soon) before I can tell you about it. Unless you email me, and I'll spill the beans ;)

As you may have noticed from the plethora of bunny-related blog posts, it's Easter. Orla has been on holiday now for a week and without even trying we've managed to pack each day with events that have cost either very little or nothing. We had a day of playing on 'one' day as Orla wanted to stay home and get stuck into all her new toys. Then on 'another' day we had a lovely day at Berlin Zoo with some good friends and spent a lot of time not looking so much at animals, but talking endlessly, avoiding fast-moving zoo traffic, and playing in the quite brilliant park.

Now this was a nice playdate. Fun is a shared love of railings.

On 'another one of the' days we spent a couple of hours in the depths of hell, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, and then went on a fake appointment on the other side of the city so we didn't have to spend any longer with them. And we also went to Legoland 'another' day because the kids have been dying to make more use of our year passes and I HATE that place on the weekends. For some reason I had convinced myself that the Germans would take their Easter holidays on a different week, perhaps that was the only way my brain would allow me to actually make the suggestion of Legoland to the kids. It's not that it's not good: in fact I'd say that the Legoland Discovery Centre at Potsdamer Platz is one of the best places to take kids in Berlin. As long as you like being underground and packed in like a sardine and enjoy noise levels from squealing kids that could drown out a pneumatic drill.

Don't get excited Orla, this poster is the best bit.

We also went along to the 'Helden' (Superheroes) exhibition at the Film & TV Museum in the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz. I had seen the poster in one of the U-Bahn stations and Hamish had been very keen to see Spiderman. It was reasonable enough to get in to: Euro 4 for me and the kids were free, but it was a bit of a disappointment. The 3 Spidermen they had on display looked remarkably similar to the very small ones Hamish plays with, and well... the Star Wars display was just the Lego figures of the characters. If anyone wants to see a Disney Winnie the Pooh, Toy Story, & Cars exhibition, I will be showing one made out Duplo for the next 6 months in Hamish's bedroom.

The Sony Center roof viewed from the -2 floor. It's a geometric dream.

I will say however, that I am glad we went into it. I haven't bothered visiting the Film & TV museum because I kind of assumed that it would primarily focus on German films and tv that I wouldn't be familiar with. But it's worth going in even to the foyer and using the glass lifts to get a different view of the Sony Center roof. And you know how I like to take a photo or 80!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

We're going to party like it's 8 years before you were born.

We had a great time. We are quite good at celebrating, I think. There were moments where I felt like I could happily kill some people, and vowed never to have a kids party in my home again, but on the whole, I'd say we all enjoyed ourselves massively, guests included. After a late nights prep where I kind of panicked about not knowing just how many people would be coming and ended up making enough cupcakes to feed the whole building, I was awoken at 5 (how apt) by the birthday girl. Lucky me to get to share in her excitement when I hadn't gone to bed until after midnight.

We'd been decorating, clearing, prepping, tidying, and all the other things you need to do. I gave a very relaxed Stevie a bag of balloons to blow up. My theory is that kids of Orla and Hamish's age are happy as long as there are balloons and music. So I went mad on the balloons too. We nearly blacked out simultaneously trying to get them all blown up. It was fun. We veered from lightheadedness into near unconsciousness many, many times until Stevie begged me to find my balloon pump. 

I left him to finish up while I got on with the finishing touches... Little did I know he had left the balloon pump lying out so when I got ready to get my modelling balloons ready the next morning, it turned out Orla had managed to break it. I could have cried. Well, not really, I was a bit annoyed at not being able to do it, but not so much that I wanted to go out and find a new pump. Hell, I was up to my eyeballs preparing the unhealthiest food kids could ever desire. 

Actually, in the 5 hours sleep I got I had a nightmare about the children having huge allergic reactions to the cake glitter. It's edible, and it looks amazing, but they do recommend that you *don't eat it*. I ignored that advice, valuing aesthetics over possible seizures, and then spent my sleeping hours in torment. 

And my little princess & my little pirate (who couldn't understand why I was making him wear his pyjama bottoms) were packed with excitement like little tightly coiled springs waiting for the party to start. Everyone arrived at once, bang on 2pm, someone gave me 30 seconds warning of their child's *severe* nut allergy  - I did mention the cake glitter *may* be made with peanut oil...but they decided to take their chances in exchange for sparkly prettiness. And no kids died or ended up in hospital, so that was good!

So we danced, played games, gave out prizes for being good, and some for those who were utterly crap, ate, sung, laughed, broke up arguments, and ran around like nutcases. What more do you want from a party, well except copious amounts of alcohol? That would have been nice.

By quarter to 4 they were creating an awesome amount of noise, and we left them to play in Orla's room. The girls mostly took to the tent and camped out, while the boys jumped, and argued, and bounced, and ran around some more. And then bang on 4pm all the parents appeared as if by magic and whisked their buzzing little kids away, and just like that, it was over.

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