March Madness

I’m writing this at my desk, staring at storm clouds and rain dripping down the window pane, with my portable heater on maximum. This serves me right for being smug about Berlin’s lack of winter and the glorious sunshine we’ve had the past few weeks. I also suspect it’s because I bought a bike last week and the powers that be don’t want to release me onto the cycle paths and roads of Berlin as I am bound to be a public menace. To be fair, on my first day of riding the bike, I fell off four times resulting in a severely bruised ego and moderately bruised knees. I feel this has something to do with the fact it’s a men’s bike and as such the saddle is a bit high for little old me, meaning riding the bike provides a Penny Farthing style experience. Many old German men have stopped to laugh at me as I peddle furiously past them on the street. Maybe the rain is a blessing in disguise.

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Me, on a bike, unusually vertical.

In other news, two of my friends from back home came to visit, making March already one of the best months I’ve had in Berlin. During their stay we managed to cram in a lot of sightseeing which for me combines exploring Berlin’s cultural history with pointing out every place I’ve ever been to eat. Food was a major part of their trip, but that’s never a bad thing. We wandered aimlessly around Tiergarten, took a tour up the Reichstag (German’s very impressive parliamentary building) and in more exciting news, ate a pizza that was a meter across, had religious experiences over superb pasta, and I surprised myself with how much I actually know about the city.

I also got to use my rubbish German quite a lot. The rule of thumb in Berlin tends to be as long as you made an effort, it’s okay. Whilst most people in the city do speak English and will switch to speaking it the second they clock the look of fear on your panicky foreigner face, there actually are marks for trying. Germans are far friendlier when you at least attempt to convey your message in garbled Deutsch rather than giving in straight away and reverting to English.

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Me, casually ruining a photo of the Reichstag

With less than a week to go until April there is also not much time left before the summer semester starts. After writing a 7500 word essay for one of my classes I am in no mood to complete the other three I still have to write, and find myself missing the Brotherton and Eddy B, which for all their faults are so, so much less confusing than the libraries at university here. You have to lock your bag and coat away before you enter, a lot of the books can’t be checked out, and any sort of database where you can search for what you need appears to be a completely alien concept. Thank God for JStor.

And finally- because I revel in making my life needlessly complicated- I’ve started an internship here in Berlin to do alongside studying. It combines my love of film and writing about film with the glamour of unpaid work and being thrown headfirst into the German hipster scene, so I’m a happy, if not overworked and stressed, bunny. It is however nice to be back in some semblance of a routine and be filling my days with more productive tasks than watching Eastbound & Down obsessively or binge eating Haribo Smurfs. I don’t think either of those count as transferrable skills.

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Top Eats in Berlin

  • The California Breakfast Slam (CabSlam, U-Bahn Rathaus Neukolln)

One of the things I’ve learnt about myself during my year of living dangerously is that I love brunch. I love pancakes, I love waffles, I love eggs, and I love eating breakfast food at lunch time. Berlin is big on lazy weekends spent eating a late breakfast and strolling idley around the city, and it’s a part of the lifestyle I’ve wasted no time getting used to. CabSlam is a bit of an American import, at the name may suggest. Originally a pop-up brunch spot they have now put down permanent roots and are working on expanding their weekend breakfast menu into a seven day breakfast, lunch and dinner extravaganza. The portions are huge and the food is amazing, but what’s more is that the staff are some of the loveliest I’ve ever met.

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  • Shisho Burger (U-Bahn Rosenthaler Platz)

Up until January I was a herbivore of six years, and finding good vegetarian fair in Leeds and Sheffield was always pretty difficult. Luckily Berlin is way ahead of the game, and the best vegetarian burger I’ve had was in Shisho Burger, a Japanese joint in Mitte. There’s only one veggie option on the menu, but it’s a divine creation with perfectly prepared tofu and grilled eggplant. Teamed with fresh edemame and amazing homecooked fries, Shisho is so far more favourite burger spot in Berlin. But as I’m yet to eat my first beef burger, maybe I’ll report back on my new findings in a few months’ time…

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  • Musashi (U-Bahn Schonleinstr)

I discovered in my second year of university that I really like sushi, but I’m a bit of a wimp and tend to limit myself to the vegetarian selections on offer. Mushashi has some of the best sushi going, and I have it on good authority the stuff with actual fish in is pretty delicious too. Most importantly for a penniless student, it’s super cheap. Ten euros will buy you a miniature feast. The Inside-Out Maki with Philadelphia and Avacado is heavenly and the vegetable tempura is a behemoth; I’ve had it twice and both times been defeated.

Sadly I don’t have any photos of their food…because I tend to just devour it as soon as it arrives. Oops.

  • Princess Cheesecake (S-Bahn Oranienburgerstr)

This is one of Berlin’s worst-kept secrets, but when the cheesecake’s this good, everyone should be shouting it from the rooftops. Tucked away between the art galleries that occupy so many of the buildings near Oranienburgerstrasse is this gorgeous little café, packed with some of the finest cheesecake in the city (and I’ve sampled a lot). The prices for takeaway and eat-in are the same, so if you have a little time you might like to get comfy and enjoy some people watching. If not, take a slice home to enjoy later in the comfort of your own home. Equally delicious. There are regularly new offerings to try based on the season, though my personal favourite is the New York Cheesecake with Dulce de Leche.

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  • Lemon Leaf (U-Bahn Samariterstr)

Another thing I’ve discovered about Berlin is how much they love fusion cuisine. Lemon Leaf is an ‘Indochine’ restaurant that serves some of the most amazing dishes I’ve had yet in Berlin as well as amazing cocktails. It’s not too pricey either; 15 euros will get you a starter, a main and a drink or two. But my favourite thing on the menu are the pumpkin fried dumplings. They. Are. Fantastic.

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Where The Wild Things Aren’t

Some say April is the cruellest month. They’re wrong; it’s actually February. Aside from the fact I always forget it’s two to three days shorter than every other month and thus my rent/essays are due sooner than I realised, it comes with the added bonus of Valentine’s Day (for a chronically single woman all the PDA is just mockery) and all in all feels like a poxy waste of time between winter ending and spring beginning. Luckily for me, Berlin seems to have completely forgotten there are four seasons. Apparently this is the warmest winter in a long time, and the two weeks in January of -12 and inches of snow seem like a distant memory. Now there’s beautiful blue skies and Saturday morning strolls along the canal to occupy the time, which of course, for a serial procrastinator, means I’ve constantly got an excuse to be doing something other than the four essays I have due in March.

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The glorious Princess Cheesecake

After surviving what feels like the longest semester in the world, I’m in need of a holiday. Unfortunately- due to lack of funds and the fact no one is really clamouring to hire a British girl who speaks appalling German- I’m stuck in Berlin for two and a half months until the next term begins. Of course, complaining about being ‘stuck’ in one of the coolest cities in the world is incredibly self-indulgent. It could be worse. I could be stuck in Sheffield. But watching most of my friends journeying off around Europe or flying home for a few weeks has led me into a pretty melancholy existence. Last week all I managed to achieve was going to cinema on my own three nights in a row and eat a lot of cheesecake in an attempt to console myself. It sort of worked.

I took myself to Berlin’s Tierpark on one sunny (albeit chilly) Monday afternoon. It’s part of the Berlin zoo network, for which I have an annual pass because I really like going to the zoo. It’s my literal happy place. I can spend hours wandering around, and although Berlin’s Hauptzoo isn’t much to marvel at, Tierpark is a glorious place based in the outskirts of the city centre. The sprawling grounds encapsulate several beautiful stately homes, woodland, and my favourite thing of all- a walk-through lemur exhibit home to two very friendly lemurs. For a capital city Berlin isn’t exactly short on green spaces, but Tierpark is definitely one of my favourites.

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Tiergarten on a winter afternoon

On the subject of Berlin institutions, it’s been impossible to miss the 63rd Berlinale Film Festival which took place at the beginning of February. This is understandably a big deal in Berlin which sees Hollywood A-Listers and movie business insiders from across the globe descend on the city for two frantic weeks. I myself spent six days trying to secure tickets for various films, and in the end managed to see five films, though I decided against any celeb spotting due to my intense dislike for crowds. I got to see some really great films that I probably would have never heard of without Berlinale, and visit some absolutely stunning venues which were transformed into cinemas for the fortnight.

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A rubbish photo of the Berlinale’s main cinema.

There’s little else noteworthy to mention about this month. Once again I am overwhelmed by the prospect of essay deadlines, a bit weepy over the prospect of my friends who are leaving Berlin at the end of March, and beginning to worry about how on earth I’ll find a flat in Leeds for next year willing to allow pets. On the plus side, I finally got to try the much-hyped Cronut, so it’s not all bad. In fact, the Cronut is a huge plus.

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God bless the cronut.