Thursday, 17 December 2009

Going home for Christmas

I am flying home tomorrow, to spend Christmas in what has turned into a winter wonderland! My dad rang me and told me the weather forecast for Southern Finland is -20°C tomorrow – ouch. I will probably not write much until after New Year's. When we've gone home for previous holidays, there's never a moment's pause; "Can we see you? Are you having dinner with us tonight? We're having a party tonight, you should come! Will you be in Helsinki on Friday? Will you be in Porvoo on Wednesday?". Fun, but not a vacation. I'll leave you with my favourite Christmas song – far from cheesy :)

Monday, 14 December 2009

Count down

What a weekend! We went bowling (for the first time ever!) on Friday. It was so much fun, but also much more difficult than I had imagined. I also played air-hockey for the first time – a lot easier :) On Saturday we were invited to a Christmas party. I wanted to try to bring these really cute mini-muffins I saw a recipe for, so it was all about baking, cleaning, listening to Christmas music and wrapping presents yesterday. The muffins didn't turn out too well, but I love the mini-cake idea, so I'll try them with another recipe later, I think. And we posted our presents to America, so hopefully they will be in Boston in time for Christmas!



This week we are saying see-you-later to our friends here in Berlin before going home for the holidays. We have already scheduled a breakfast, a lunch and two dinners for next week! The most stressful part will be to finish shopping for Christmas presents. I still don't have a clue what to buy A's mother and my best friend... But I hope another visit to good old TK Maxx will help! We already spent like €200 there last week, hehe :)  I really recommend a trip there, especially to shop for the most difficult of all: fathers.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

An early Christmas present

Last weekend we found out that BVG are giving us Berliners a Christmas present: on advent weekends you can use your "Einzelfahrschein" (€2.10) as a day ticket! So two more weekends left to ride around town like there's no tomorrow :) Here's the link if you want to make sure.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Kitchen experiment



We invited my dad, my uncle and their partners over for dinner when they were in Berlin. We made canapes, beetroot soup and for dessert I tried out this chocolate gateau recipe from Effilee magazine. It's meant to be all gooey and runny on the inside – mine wasn't. The consistency was nice, though, rich and smooth like a chocolate truffle. The cakes are flavoured with rosemary and olive oil, which was hardly noticeable, so next time I'll be a little more generous with them. And maybe add a tiny pinch of salt, too.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Christmas markets


I've visited many Christmas markets by now, drank many cups of glühwein and established that Finnish glögg is better than German glühwein. My favourite markets are in Kulturbrauerei and on Gendarmenmarkt (where my dad had been before, and wanted to go again). Kulturbrauerei has a cosy little market on a courtyard, and they serve Finnish and Swedish glögi and punsch. The Gendarmenmarkt market is set against the most amazing back drop: the square is decorated with the Deutscher and Französischer Dom churches and the Konzerthaus. It doesn't get more idyllic than that! My least favourite markets have been on Potsdamer Platz and on Alexanderplatz – no surprise there, they are pretty much just for tourists. I still need to visit at least one more market, because I still haven't tried the roasted chestnuts...

Here's a list of all the Christmas markets in Berlin.

The city at night


Usually the queue of tourists going to the Reichstag Dome is insane, I've heard it can take hours to get in. On the first day of dad's visit we decided to give it a go and were lucky – it only took us about 20 minutes to get in. This was on a Thursday evening, around seven. The queue moves slowly because the security is tight, and because only about 20 people at a time fit the elevator to get to the top. The views are killer and the whole thing is free, even the audio guide! I never think I'm afraid of heights, but then I climb somewhere high like this, and my knees get all wobbly... But the views are well worth the shakes :)

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Gourmet evening

My dad & Co are still in Berlin and keeping us busy, so I'm keeping it short – even if they chose spend the day at Sachsenhausen today. I'll later make a note of the fun touristy things we've done, but for now I'll just express excitement over our dinner plans tonight. We are going to E.T.A. Hoffman in Kreuzberg, a Michelin "Gourmet Bib" awarded restaurant. They offer a vegetarian surprise menu, that makes me drool with anticipation... I hope it delivers!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

I ♥ Magazines (with recipes!)

I love reading magazines; my attention span isn't always very long, and a magazine is built to let me take some well deserved breaks :) I've been on the lookout for a German mag to practice my reading skills with, and now I found one; a food and lifestyle mag called Effilee. It was a freebie in the Deutsche Bahn lounge, and I grabbed it because it's "für Essen und Leben". I will definitively return to the interesting article on umami and monosodium glutamate – to make sure my German skills didn't let me down. I will also be re-reading it because I will have to wait until January for a new issue...

My dad and his wife and my uncle and his wife are coming to Berlin tomorrow. Apart from the tourist stuff, they want to see where we live, and my dad suggested we invite them for dinner. I tried to say our apartment is kind of small – but we will fit them all in somehow and make them our favourite soup; it's easy to serve :) I also found a recipe on Effilee's website that will make for a cool dessert: chocolate cupcakes with olive oil and rosemary (in German).

Monday, 30 November 2009

From A to Z


Tomorrow (2.12.) the elusive and funky Buchstabenmuseum has an open house, and I finally want to go look at the much talked about collection of arbitrary letters and typographical memorabilia. The showroom is usually open only monthly, but in December it seems to be open once a week – so better seize the opportunity to visit!

Photo from http://www.buchstabenmuseum.de/

Sunday, 29 November 2009

First Advent Sunday

We just came home from a lovely Sunday walk around Prenzlberg and a preview of all that December in Berlin has to offer. Mauerpark was buzzing with karaoke, shoppers, tourists and glühwein. The organic market on Kollwitzplatz is now also an advent market, and there we bought homemade mustard to bring home for Christmas. My brother loves his mustard strong, and we got him a beer mustard I'm sure he'll get excited over. The Kulturbrauerei complex has a "Lucia" Christmas market on every day until Christmas, between 15-22 o'clock. They have some Finnish stalls there too, that serve Finnish glühwein, glögi. (Which naturally is far better than the German glühwein ;) I'm really starting to feel christmassy and can't wait to open the first door of my advent calendar on Tuesday!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Fried sushi? Can it be done?



We have walked past this tiny little sushi place called Sumo Sushi on Kastanienallee several times, but it always seems empty and so we've had our doubts. Recently a friend moved in across the street from the restaurant and convinced me that Sumo Sushi does nice, fresh sushi. So we tried it. What we didn't expect was to become addicted. They serve a sushi roll called "panierte sushi", fried sushi. WTF? Is frying sushi even allowed? But we tried it – and loved it! Now we can't stop thinking about fried sushi, and we drag friends there and everyone agrees: it's CRAZY good.

P.S. Sumo Sushi on Kastanienallee has changed owners in February 2010, so I can't guarantee they do fried sushi anymore, or how well they do it.

Limbo

We seem to just be waiting now. Waiting for our colds to get better, waiting for my dad's visit next week, waiting for Christmas. It doesn't feel very likely to find a job before Christmas, and since we are going home for three weeks, it doesn't really seem fair either. We see our friends a lot, and we both have set up language tandems, but it just doesn't take up that much time... Truth be told, I'm a little intimidated by sending out my CV in German and pretending to be good enough to interview in German! So I spend my time planning for dad's visit, thinking about what to cook and bake, and figuring out Christmas presents. And that's not bad either.

Tonight we are having our Irish friends D&M over for glühwein and salmon pasta. I'm still deciding whether or not to do a dessert. Life is good.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Lomography



I have two plastic Lomography cameras that take the coolest photos in the world. One is a Fisheye, that takes round photos with an extreme fish eye effect. The other one is a Supersampler with four lenses, that takes four photos in one frame. It's a bit like cheating, but there are a few tricks to getting good shots. I will continue to learn, but here are some autumnal Supersampler Lomo's (from Berlin):

Sunday, 22 November 2009

It is the season to be jolly

Now Christmas time has officially begun for me. We fought our hangovers today (the result of a very successful sushi dinner party) and went to the Finnish Christmas market in Kreuzberg. It was small and sweet, but expensive. We loosened our belts enough to buy Karelian pies (five for four euro) and a bag of salmiakki candy (€1.50). And because of the state we were in, we could not resist sharing a freshly smoked salmon on rye, either, which set us back a whopping five euro. It was an expensive trip to Finland :)

Friday, 20 November 2009

Getting ready for winter


Even if the weather is freakishly warm for November (+10-15°C), one of my favourite cafés, Blumencafé, is getting ready for the cold in the most cosy way! I love their outdoor seating all year round; you sit surrounded by flowers and greenery from their flower shop. The wintry, cosy bales of hay are the icing on the cake.

On a bright, sunshiny day in Berlin


We are feeling a little flu-ish, but weren't going to let that keep us away from the sunlight today. It was +15 degrees, which might just be the warmest November day I have ever seen. We decided to finally go look at the East Side Gallery; the world's biggest out door art gallery, painted on to a remaining part of the Berlin wall. We were a bit disappointed, as all the paintings were new, and we couldn't feel any anarchism or passion in them. The ginormous and ugly O2 Arena also really ruins the vibe!


We decided to keep walking, all the way to Alexanderplatz. It was mostly a very unattractive walk with a view of huge Soviet-era and only glimpses of the river Spree. Just before reaching Alexanderplatz we stumbled upon the Nikolaivierteil. Just east of the big park at the bottom of Alexanderplatz is a tiny little part of Berlin, centred around the Nikolaikirche, that has survived all the bombs. It's full of tiny shops, museums and restaurants, aimed maybe mostly at tourists. Since Berlin is so cheap, the tourist prices aren't too bad either. My dad is coming for a visit next month, and we will definitively take him for a stroll here on the cobble stone lanes and go for a pint in one of the picturesque pubs.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Finnish Christmas Market



Here's something to do when the sun shines on Saturday: visit the Finnish Christmas market in Kreuzberg! I will definitively go there on Saturday or Sunday to see if I can find some Finnish chocolate, salmiakki and Christmas goodies. And maybe something with a Moomin troll on it :) Speaking of which, did anyone else know they are doing a Moomin film? A former colleague sent me this link today. The weather forecast is amazing for Friday and Saturday, like +14°C and sun, so let's make the most of it!

Picture from Moomins and Midsummer Madness

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Language tandem

I just came home from my first language tandem. It's absolutely genius: the idea is to exchange foreign languages with native speakers, for free. I met my language partner, Silvia, through a website; she wants to improve her Finnish, I want to improve my German. We got along really well and talked for almost three hours. We're the same age, we both are into food, and obviously learning languages. Her Finnish isn't so advanced, so I got the long end of the stick and we talked in German for most of the night. I'm on cloud nine now, because she told me my German was really good! Here's where you sign up for free to find a language partner.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Warsaw by train

Lounging at the Deutsche Bahn lounge

I just got back yesterday from a weekend in Warsaw, celebrating the housewarming of A&K, our Polish friends we met in Dublin. It was very exotic to travel abroad by train, not by frickin' Ryanair! The fastest connection between Berlin and Warsaw is just over 5,5 hours, but you also don't have to queue at the check in desk, the security control or the boarding gates. Train stations also tend to be in the city centres, so no need for extra transport! Two thumbs up! It did get a little boring to sit in the train for so long, but at least you can walk around and sleep easier than on a bus or an airplane. Our train tickets cost €196, and we availed of a special offer to travel first class. Second class was on special for €156. I think the difference between first and second class was that there was six seats in our cabin, eight in second class. Also a food cart kept patrolling the isles in first class. The most genuine first class experience was at Berlin Hauptbanhof before the train took off: we got to hang out in the Deutsche Bahn lounge, drink free beverages and take magazines with us for the train. Or maybe we weren't supposed to take them, but we did :P

Upon arrival in Warsaw it was a slight shock to be surrounded by a language that you have no chance of understanding. At the central train station there were no signs in English, not even for the exits! Luckily our friend K collected us and walked us out to the right tram.


Warsaw is not a very pretty city. Mostly it looks like the eastern suburbs of Berlin. It's not the fault of the Polish, it was the Soviets who re-built the city from the ruins of the second world war. And in fairness, most cities are ugly in November. As an exception the Old City of Warsaw was a surprise to us; it is pretty and full of atmosphere – definitively the "must-see" of Warsaw.

The goal of our trip was to catch up with our friends. On Friday we went to a few bars in the city centre and on Saturday was the big housewarming. Many people we know from our time in Dublin were there for the party, and it was a really good night. I had forgotten the Polish tradition of drinking vodka shots at every turn, and it turned very loud and rowdy. The Polish honey vodka is deceivingly delicious... I'm glad we didn't have to face the neighbours!

Poster at the new Warsaw Rising Museum

Pirogi – Polish dumplings stuffed with mushroom and cabbage

Thursday, 12 November 2009

A holiday away from the holiday

When you are unemployed, the weekend can start on Thursday. We are giving Deutsche Bahn a try while visiting our friends in Warsaw over the weekend. I think this is my first time in first class, too; DB had an offer and so first class tickets were the same price as second class tickets. I haven't travelled by train in years (not counting the S-bahn), so I am excited. What makes me even happier is avoiding Ryanair. We can carry as much luggage as we can, and as many liquids as we want = Freedom!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The fall of the wall

So, that was that then. The 20th anniversary of the wall falling. It was rainy and miserable out, no way was I going out anywhere to hold hands with strangers. I know, I'm no team player. Instead a bunch of us Finns sat in our apartment and watched it all happen on tv. Drinking sparkling wine and eating quiche. I have to say, it could not have been a nicer evening – and we had a great view of the Brandenburger Tor event on the small screen. I bet the only thing we would have seen there in person were the insides of hundreds of umbrellas.

Tomorrow I get my better half back from Dublin again, and after a few nights of rest, we will take the train to Warsaw. I am very excited about that, I have not been there before. I wonder if you get any veggie food there? :)

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Free dinner

I don't know about free lunches, but in Berlin there IS such a thing as free dinners! Our friend, who lives in Neukölln, invited us to her local for free food yesterday. B-Lage serves one meal a week for a mere "spende", aka donation, to it's customers every Wednesday. We were a little suspicious, us being vegetarians and also not knowing many nice places in Neukölln. This bar certainly is as cosy and hip as any place in Prenzlauer Berg. DJ's play electronic music, the walls have cute spray-art and it has that cool run-down look. We arrived something to eight and after that the place started to slowly get crowded. Food was served around 8.30pm, and by then the bar was full and the queue for food circled room. The dish of the day was "curryous"; mash with a grain in it, maybe rice, accompanied by a delicious Indian-style spicy spinach sauce with pineapple. The food is always vegetarian, and this week vegan as well. Still, maybe the best part of the night was that all of us who gathered are learning German, and so we spoke German the whole night!




Wednesday, 4 November 2009

First snow

It's snowing in Berlin! It looks really strange and since it's too early and too warm for real snow, it is extremely wet outside. We came home from school looking like we had just taken a shower :) We still have to venture to the post office to send out our Father's Day cards, which we should have done yesterday...

View from our window today

Tonight we are invited to join a few class mates in a bar in Neukölln that serves free food. Very exciting to see what that's like! Our friends go every week, so it can't be too bad... I'll take notes and pass on the wisdom.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

When the wall came down

Everybody keeps talking about the 20th anniversary of the wall coming down – and I don't have any particular plans. What to do? I am invited to a birthday brunch on Saturday, and the hostess promised we could then also commemorate the wall falling :) I still do feel like I should be Participating more. I belong to a group on Facebook that aims to make a wall of people hand-in-hand, recreating the wall. Someone else will try to recreate the wall using Domino blocks. Apparently there will also be a gig with 200 guitar players at once at the East Side Gallery. I have been trying to research this, but am no more decided on what to do when I started... Here's some links, anyway:

Free stuff to do in Berlin next weekend
Official website of the Mauerfall
Semi official website
Concert at Brandenburger Tor

Halloween – all year round!

I think I have written about Zyankali before. It's a tiny little cellar bar in Kreuzberg and we got accidentally very, very drunk there once, forgetting that the tasty house brew, Zyankalibräu, is 8,5% strong... We were there on Halloween and had a great time – the owner even played us some Finnish music :D But the thing is, the bar looks the same all year long; like the set for a horror film. There are skeletons and skulls everywhere, it's dark and gloomy and even our table was a coffin with a glass lid, so we could see the "mummified body" in it – can you see it in the photo? Very cool. Not to every ones taste, I can imagine.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Last days of autumn


I can't stop looking at all the amazing colours that have been everywhere these past weeks! I have a special fascination with the vines, climbing on all all the buildings in pretty patterns an shades. It makes me sad that the weather is getting colder and all the colours will slowly float to the pavement. Maybe winter will be pretty, too?



Friday, 30 October 2009

Winter tip

I have signed up for most the newsletters I have run into here in Berlin, and sometimes it pays off. Look what they have done to Badeshiff, the outdoors swimming pool that sits in the Spree, to prepare for winter:


Isn't it beautiful? And inside are (Finnish) saunas, the swimming pool and a bar. It opens tomorrow, 30.10. and until 5.11. the entry fee is 2 for 1 (€12 for three hours).

If you are looking for something to do for Halloween, this sounds really nice; a candle-lit audio presentation of the classic radio play ‘Dracula‘ narrated by Orson Welles at newly opened Café Hilda in Prenzlberg. None of that commercial plastic-pumpkin-crap, thank you very much :)

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Happy skin

You really can live for less here in Berlin! For a few years now I have tried to change all my beauty products to natural or organic stuff – and particularly to avoid sodium laureth sulfate (dries the skin) and parabens (carcinogens that then pass into the ecosystem). I got a tip that the chain of Rossman shops has their own certified natural cosmetics range, Alterra. I've testing them for a while now, an eye cream and a moisturiser, but they seem too moisturising for me – my skin won't absorb them completely. Last week, to my surprise, I saw that Lidl too has a range of certified natural skin care called Suhada. I bought the day cream that contains rice and bamboo, €4,99. It smells really aroma-therapeutic and seems to work well for my skin. The range also included soaps, bath products, scrubs and moisturisers.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

An excursion




Yesterday we decided we wanted to be a bit outdoorsy, and so we jumped on the S-bahn and headed to Spandau. We changed for the U7 and got off at the Zitadelle stop to go walk around the old fortress, Spandauer Zitadelle. It was a really nice way to spend an afternoon, the views were nice and the occasional museum was ok. Entrance was €4,50, but it included all the museums and a climb up to the watch tower. Maybe one could just walk the grounds for free? We didn't ask. The most exciting thing we saw there was the bat cellar, a space where the bats naturally come to sleep. It's divided with glass walls and lit with infrared lights, so you can actually see the bats swarming and feeding. And pooping. A little scary, but cool. But no photos – we assumed they might be offended by the flash light :P




From the Zitadelle we walked to the old town of Spandau, and to the local brewery. The brewery had some good beer, but the menu was a bit too fleshy for us. The town itself was quiet and felt like a different part of Germany altogether, even if Spandau is a part of Berlin. It's less than an hour away from central Berlin, so it makes a good little destination for a long stroll and some fresh air.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Schmeckt gut

Restaurant tip of the day: Wuu on Stargarder strasse in Prenzlberg. We planned on going to the "best japanese restaurant in Berlin" with our friends M&M, but with no reservation, they just looked at us like we were crazy. We politely declined the kind offer to eat our meal in an hour, before the table needs to be free again. So we re-traced our steps and went in to an other asian restaurant we passed on our way. A and I ordered sushi and vietnamese shrimp-mango summer rolls for a starter, then we both ate an amazingly flavourful aubergine and tofu dish for mains. For dessert we tride green tea ice cream (creamy and good), while our friends had the stuffed japanese rice dough sweets with fresh fruit. I would go back to Wuu for amazing and imaginative sushi, and for carefully prepared asian dishes any time.

Unfortunately no pictures were taken, because we were very hungry and attacked the food as soon as we saw it...

Photo from cookelani.de
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