Ladies Who Brunch

Winter in Berlin arrived not with a bang but a whimper. From the balmy January temperatures of five degrees to minus twelve in the space of a week, finally my snow boots got an outing and I got used to resembling Bambi in his first tentative steps on the ice. Having fallen down all the steps at one S-Bahn station already (Thanks a lot, Hackesher Markt) I was taking no chances. Dressed like an Arctic explorer prepared for the harshest of winters, I was greeted on my first icy voyage to university by a sea of Germans dressed in stylish ankle boots and beautiful Fjallraven jackets. I looked like an idiot, albeit a very cosy one. Germany: 1, Hannah: 0.

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The view from my window…

However, my experiences of the Berlin winter thus far cannot detract from the utter revelation that is the German institution of brunch. Brunch isn’t just the meal you have to make a hangover seem less disgraceful; it’s a work of art. Admittedly, my favourite brunch spots in Berlin so far are respectively American and Australian, but I don’t think that takes away from the fact that brunch in Berlin is one of the greatest things a student can experience. Where else is it acceptable to order a beer with your meal at eleven in the morning? Cheery waitresses, prices that mean it’d be rude not to order seconds, and an overall ambience that invites the weak and weary, Berlin on a Sunday is made for eating.

2 (1) Brunch at the California Breakfast Slam

Aside from the chill of winter and warmth of brunch, my January has involved a haze of panic about impending final essay deadlines, a bewildered ponderence of what on earth I’m going to do with the eight weeks I have off university between first and second semester, and several moments of despair when I thought I’d lost one of my gloves. Luckily two of my Thursdays have been spent at the Gortlizer Bahnof ‘Street Food Thursday’, which is essentially a large market hall full of independent vendors selling artisan versions of global street cuisine. My only complaint is that the ‘Fish and Chips’ stall was actually a bread and fish stall. I did feel in some way England was been doing a disservice, but one ice cream sandwich and the best Philly cheesecake I’ve ever had later, and it seemed rude to argue about the way they do things in Berlin.

3 (1)5 Elephant’s sublime Philly Cheesecake

Club nights have turned into house parties, trading 10 Euro entrance fees for standing in the kitchen sipping German beer and trying to sound like a native rather than the foreigner everyone instinctively knows I am. It’s hard to not miss home in the midst of winter, and whilst absence makes the heart grow fonder, Skype lets you know what you’re missing. Even the English café I visited last week was a pale imitation of all that puts the ‘great’ in Great Britain, not least because they served generic brown sauce instead of the Holy Grail of HP.

With two weeks left of my first term abroad my paranoia about ‘not doing enough’ with my year abroad appears to have hit critical mass, and two internship applications, one awkward German phone interview and several existential crises later, I’ve settled for a ‘To-Do’ list that mainly involves an abundance of museum and gallery visits, checking out more German cinema, and learning to say something other than ‘Do you offer student discount?’ in the native language. Any plans for a modern day Grand Tour may be dashed by money woes, so the two months off between first and second semester will likely be spent in Berlin, watching Parks and Recreation obsessively, patiently waiting for the temperature outside to crawl back above zero.

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Planes, Trains and Catherine Wheels

December has passed by in a blur of mulled wine, Christmas lights and general festive merriment. Sitting down to write this post I was actually confronted with the thought ‘Where did the time go?’ which makes me feel like a nostalgic fifty-something reminiscing about her bygone youth. As always at the beginning of the month December seems to stretch on infinitely, and opening the first door on my advent calendar (because those things don’t come with an age limit despite what our parents have been trying to tell us) presented me with the feeling that there was still almost a month before I boarded my plane back to Merry Old England for the holidays.

I was wrong.

Between my entire family descending on Berlin to visit, presentation deadlines for classes and a sea of ‘goodbye drinks’ with those departing a bit earlier, there was barely time to breathe. By the time I was checking my bag at Schönefeld Airport on the 22nd, I couldn’t really remember how I’d got there. I’m now into my fifth month in Berlin, 622 miles from Sheffield (as the crow flies) and the Christmas holidays didn’t seem entirely real. Maybe it was the bizarreness of being back in my rural village outside of the city, where about the most exciting thing that happens is a tree falling on the main road causing a bit of a traffic inconvenience, after so long in a place where there’s always something to do, see, or accidentally stumble upon.

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Walter investigating the sweets from Herr Nilesson Gotliebb.

That being said, Christmas was great. I returned with gifts of Swedish pick n mix and German ginger bread, hugged my completely indifferent cats, beat the family at Cluedo, and had the usual festive row or two; not to mention experienced the utter joy at being able to open a fridge, eat what I want, and not worry about having to go to the supermarket. Come the 31st I was back at Manchester Airport though, bound for my first new year abroad. We decided to keep it a traditional affair; getting drunk at a friend’s house, dancing around the room to such hits as Jump On It and Get Down Tonight. New Year (or Sylvester, as is the German name) is the rarest of nights where everyone on the street wants to be your best friend and walking down the street is like taking part in a war film, with people setting off fireworks in the middle of the road. We were subject to a great firework display from the balcony, as five people decided to let off an impressive set of rockets of every size and colour on the pavement opposite (I get the impression the Germans don’t have an equivalent to the Firework Code.)

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Sparklers on New Year’s Eve

There’s about five weeks left in my first semester at Freie Universität, then comes our rather oddly timed five week break before the summer term. Student loan permitting I’ll get a chance to see more of Germany and more ambitiously, Europe. I’ve got my eye on Dresden, Munich and Hamburg, as well as Copenhagen, Prague and Budapest. If I can get through the German winter, that is; so far we’ve only seen a light dusting of snow and a bit of rain, but that doesn’t mean I’m not slightly concerned. In a pre-emptive strike I lugged my electric blanket back in my suitcase which I think might be the wisest decision I’ve made in a long time. Perhaps in fact since deciding to come to Berlin in the first place.

Without sounding too eager (since Berlin is the height of edgy and cool) if the last four months in Deutschland have been anything to go by, 2014 should be ein ziemlich gutes Jahr.

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A very attractive NYE photo