Sunday, 28 October 2012

Treasure in a bento box

Through my job in the media world I tend to hear a lot of tips on where to go and what to do in Berlin. The ones that interest me the most are the food tips... and this last one was golden! We met our friends D and S at Gobento in Prenzlauer Berg, hoping for great Japanese inspired food –  the bar was set high. We didn't expect to also love the owner who welcomed us warmly, even if he was busy, and who passionately explained all the details of the dishes to us. There are no menus at Gobento, just the bento boxes (€10 each) filled with a variation of small dishes and condiments that depend on what the chef decided to make that day. Asking for a vegetarian or fish-free  bento box wasn't a problem and as we waited we enjoyed the complimentary jasmin and green tea. The food at Gobento is as beautiful as it is delicious and we almost didn't want to ruin the pieces of art by eating them. Mercifully we were given permission to tuck in and be messy! For dessert we were offered a selection of glutinous rice balls with a white chocolate dip – the peanut-butter treat was the unanimous winner. I'm dying to go again to see what new ideas have come to the chef's mind!

Again/Always London

We were in London to visit my best friend at the start of October. She and her new-ish boyfriend have just moved there, so now it feels like we have almost as many friends in London as we do back home in Finland. The trip was great even if it ended up draining all of our funds for, say, two months to come. We managed to find a cheap B&B type hotel (not easy in London!) near St Pancras train station where our Luton airport trains arrived and departed, and which is on the Northern Line, as is A and V. We spent two nights there, and one at the airport, since our stupid Easyjet flight was at 6am on Monday morning. The things we put our future selves through while planning trips! Our only plan, really, was to hang out and take it easy and to see our friends as much as we could. And go to pubs! I really miss the Irish pub life, which is pretty much the same in London. So we hung around Shoreditch and drank many pints of cider, Guinness and ale. The two remarkable things we hadn't done before in London were to go to the Tate Modern (free entry, why hadn't anyone told me!) and to go for midnight bagels at the famous Beigel Shop on Brick Lane. Oh, I'd go back to London just for one of those!

Steampunk bar

I'd never heard of steampunk before, so when a new theme bar opened and I made my friend L check it out with me, she had to explain the whole science fiction genre to me from Victorian aesthetic to Jules Verne adventure. Looking at the lovingly assembled Aetherloge 12° says a lot, too. The hand-built big, wooden bar, enforced with bolted steel plates, shelters the exotic rum and absinthe bottles and a set of decorative, brass pipes. What isn't hand-built is at least tweaked to perfectly suit the purpose, like the lamps; orbs that sit in simple iron holders, omitting a pleasing yellow light around the bar. As my friend was leaving Berlin for the winter, she made us promise that we were going to patron the customer-less bar and make sure it doesn't go out of business – but it seems like business has picked up and we now have to go on a week night to get a table. I guess it's apt that a steam punk bar allows smoking indoors to create a veil of mystery, but thankfully on weeknights the veil is thin.

Dresden + Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz

We took a little road trip at the end of September / beginning of October and drove to visit our friends in Dresden. We took the long way home and drove towards the Czech border to the Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz. The scenery between Dresden and the park was amazing when driving along the Elbe, and I wish we would have given ourselves more time for that part of the trip. The national park was small enough to be explored in a day, but we only spent a few hours there. I also wish we could have spent a night in the car free village of Rathen, just below the park, or one of the other adorable little villages around. Instead, after our mini-hike around the Bastei (the impressive mountain bridge in the national park), we drove to the village of Bad-Schandau for a riverside meal. Apart from the frustrating traffic jams and hold-ups on almost all the bigger roads, it was a great trip.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Bye, puppy

We had to say goodbye to our temporary dog back in August, but got to pet-sit him one more time on what was probably the last weekend of summer... I have a feeling that we won't be seeing much of him anymore. Maybe we'll have to visit a dog shelter and find someone to rescue there.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Onigiri, for the first time

Our first time eating onigiris. We got it all wrong and had to go home and watch Youtube videos on how to properly unwrap and eat this triangular rice snack. But even if we failed embarrassingly in eating technique, we really liked our onigirs and can go back soon again with all the youtube knowledge we gathered and do it right! Rice in, Grünbergerstraße 88, Friedrichshain.


A visit home in July 2012.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Best bread in Berlin

Our whole office has been abuzz about this for weeks now because a new bakery opened up just across the street, and they make the best bread in Berlin! In Germany you do get great bread: heavy, dark, ryes and wholegrains, packed with sunflower seeds. But soft breads and buns baked with yeast tend to be a disaster: airy and light and dry or heavy and dense and dry. At Zeit für Brot on Alte Schönhauser Straße the organic breads are just perfect: La Baguette (2.60€) is soft and chewy with a thick, crispy crust, the Zimtschnecken (cinnamon buns) are soft and juicy... And now I'm addicted to their Schokobrötchen, a fluffy little thing, resembling a flat scone, with big chunks of dark chocolate melted in it. Of course the more traditional, darker German breads like Bauerbrot are good, too, but a person just has to have a good baguette now and then! A part of the reason why the bread tastes so exceptional here is that the bakery itself is in the back of the shop, so everything is fresh, fresh, fresh. And what they don't sell by the end of the day, the donate to the homeless. Perfection.

A birthday dinner in the making

I'm trying to revive my lust for writing and reporting. I've wondered why I haven't mustered up any blog posts lately and came to the realisation that having the dog move in has cut down the time for bumming around online. Instead I now enjoy long walks and hiding dried chicken pieces in our living room and playing the search game with the pup. Time well spent, I think!

Anyway, it's not like that much has even happened in the last month. We celebrated May 1st with a picnic, then the weather got cold and has kept us indoors ever since. The first week of May, my brother and his band played a gig at the metal bar Blackland on their tour of Eastern Europe and we hosted nine, hairy metal musicians in our living room. The dog was super happy to have so many people to pet him, and so many sleeping bags to sleep in!

I've been planning a 60th birthday party for my father and so on the second weekend in June there will be a family invasion and a living room full of cousins, this time. I've researched, googled and emailed potential restaurants, finally settling on Weisse Villa in Friedrichshagen, overlooking the Müggelsee lake. Here's a few suggestions I got for birthday dinners in Berlin; you find a private room and an affordable menu Schneeweiß in Friedrichshain and the .HBC restaurant in Mitte or a great location on the canal at Altes Zollhaus in Kreuzberg, and simply fantastic food at Gugelhof in Prenzlauer Berg.

Let's hope the weather will be on our side and that the celebratory weekend is a great one!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Annual Easter Sunday Brunch 2012

For our annual Easter Sunday Brunch the weather was chilly, but bright. At last year's brunch we were sunning on the balcony, admiring our sprouting sweet peas and courgette plants. This year the plants are all still safely indoors where it's warm. The other difference to last year was that somehow the amount of guests grew from fifteen to twenty-two. I invited a few people from work, A invited his band... I guess it's safe to say we are settled here if we can fill our whole flat with friends! But that meant that again this year I had to wreck my head trying to figure out how much food we need – and in my experience people will eat as much as you give them if they are also drinking alcohol. And we were: we went through 17 bottles of sparking wine and I don't know how much orange juice at our all-day-long mimosa drink station. We served: cole slawbulgur saladjalapeno egg salad, watermelon and feta salad, breadstickssoft cheese balls, roasted potato wedges, a roasted vegetables stuffed bread loaf and a savoury bread roll cake (courtesy of A). For dessert I only made St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake, because I trusted some of my kitchen wizard friends to bring a few treats, too – as they did, and they were better and prettier than what I made :) As usual, I hardly took any photos, but that can be taken as a sign of how much fun we had drinking mimosas and socialising with our friends!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Friedrichshain Tex-Mex

When I hear 'Tex-Mex' I think of supermarket taco shells with minced meat and lettuce – an exotic family dinner in the 90's. Luckily, there's been a bit of a burrito revolution in Berlin with great Mexican food available in every district of the city. I have learned about home made tortilla chips, pico de gallo sauce and fresh guacamole as I've tried Mexican soft tacos at Ta'Cabrón, California style burritos at Dolores, and, last weekend, Tex-Mex at Dirty South.

Dirty South opened at the beginning of 2012 by the people behind successful Cupcake Berlin across the street. As we step into the small restaurant the first thing we see is a bar built in dark wood – the whole decor is very 'spaghetti western saloon'. We pick the table by the window and don't have to wait long until the waiter/bartender came over and, in fluent American accented German, asks if we are ready to order. He's super friendly and talkative, so throughout the meal we chat with him and he tells us that business is great and that he's excited to be making classic cocktails with real ingredients.

We order Bloody Marys (€6) as appetisers, but they take so long to make, that we only had time for a sip before the food starts to arrive. They are good though! But next time when someone asks me if my Bloody Mary should be spicy, I won't be as quick to say 'yes' – these things had a kick to them! But it actually complimented the food really well. A ordered the Deluxe Chili Cheese Nachos (€6) with a side of vegan chili (€2). I ordered a Cajun Tofu Quesadilla (€7) with a side of guacamole (€1). The food was all super delicious, the quesadillas weren't too greasy, the nachos had a lot of toppings – if I had to nitpick; I prefer my guacamole chunky, not smooth.

Next time I want to go to Dirty South for a Sunday cocktail session – I'm dying to try the soft tacos (€2 each) and a Mint Julep cocktail! Word has it that at the beginning of April the menu will be renewed and feature Texan comfort food like mac'n'cheese and biscuit and gravy, too. Can't wait to try it!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

March weather

This weekend the temperature reached +19°C on Saturday and we tried to enjoy the sun as much as we could, although we still didn't open up ice cream season... But we did go sit on a blanket in the park, we did go buy strawberry plants for the balcony and we did have Sunday brunch outside!

Next week will be though at work, so the vitamin D injection was well timed!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Mitte bookshop gem

On Thursday at lunch time my colleague M and I popped by Pro qm bookshop in Mitte. They specialize in design, architecture, fashion... the selection is impressive, also in design magazines, both in English and German. It's a gem among bookstores! I couldn't stay long, luckily, and so this time I only bought one book.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Vegetarian brunch – Sunday with Jesus

We met Jesus!

Jesus was hanging out in a little bar/café called Die Wohngemeinschaft on Bänschstraße where we went for Sunday brunch. Jesus is a six-month-old little rascal who instantly fell in love with our dog and the two of them kept themselves entertained while we helped ourselves to the delicious salads, croissants and crepes (vegetarian brunch buffet, €7).

After such great Sunday for both us and the pup, we'll definitively frequent Die Wohngemeinschaft for more brunches and for evening drinks, too!

The living room restaurant

Walking the dog around Friedrichshain has made us find places in our neighbourhood that we never knew about, like the restaurant Engler's Unikat on Samariterstraße. Looking in through the windows it looks like a grandmother's cosy living room: dimly lit, cluttered with shelves, knickknacks and houseplants. We booked a table for six and test dined there on Thursday. The ambiance was precisely as lovely and peaceful as we had imagined, the waiter polite and professional. Our party of six was seated in sofas and lounge chairs around a table clad with an flower-embroidered white cloth. The long menu  (mains €9-17) is written in Berliner slang to highlight the proletarian, meaty Berliner Küche – the vegetarian might have to settle for a mozzarella and tomato salad here. Among us, the diners who ordered from the page-long Schnitzel menu were happier the rest of us who had fish. When we bring visitors and family to Engler's Unikat I might recommend going for the traditional stews and steaks. All in all I want to go back to Engler's soon, even if only for a drink!

Sunday, 4 March 2012


Can I please, please, please declare spring now?

Yesterday we enjoyed the sun by taking a two hour walk along the river Spree in Rummelsburg, just east of Ostkreuz. It was lovely to be near the water and enjoy the warm sunshine. The dog absolutely loved it and we had a tough time keeping him from running too far ahead of us in all his excitement. We met many dogs, ducks and prams and we were all well exhausted when we got home again.

So, now I'll start talking about how it's getting close to summer now – I'm ever the optimist!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Newly weds

On Saturday we were invited to celebrate M and D getting married! The party at .HBC was an original and fun affair with Irish whiskey, cupcakes and vintage glamour.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Dog sitting - Åke in the house

This guy has been staying with us since last Sunday. It's a long story, but to sum it up: his owner is studying abroad, my friend who was dog sitting turned out to be allergic and we offered to help out for a few days. A few days is now six months instead. We're already completely in love with the little one, and it will break our hearts to give him back!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Canadian pancake breakfast

It's an exciting day because A's band is playing a gig later tonight. He was able to sit still long enough to have breakfast with me, though. Because of a (futile) attempt to get Berlinale tickets we were in Mitte and decided to try the home-made pancakes with maple syrup at Blaues Band. The small portion comes with three giant, soft, dense, fresh, delicious, pancakes and is plenty – A couldn't finish his big portion. Tip: share a triple-decker sandwich and a portion of pancakes, that way you get the best of both worlds!

The Labyrinth - Peristal Singum

I waited for my new friend, A, for a half hour sitting at the bar at Salon zur Wilden Renate. She had gotten lost; her iPhone had her to go somewhere near Rigaer Strasse rather than to Alt-Stralau 70, near the Treptow Park S-Bahn. We are going to visit Peristal Singum, the art project / labyrinth built in connection to Renate. I've heard it's disturbing and cool, and I'm very curious, A's excited. At the bar a girl asks me if I was already in the labyrinth. "I was going to go, but as my friend was going in she saw a girl crying inside the doors, so we didn't want to go anymore," she says.

A arrives and we are sit in front of a fire place, holding giant golden coins, waiting. I finish my small bottle of Pilsner Urquell and get invited to follow a girl wearing a Davy Crockett style coonskin hat. I leave my bag and scarf behind the bar. I keep my winter jacket on – I don't want to get lost in a labyrinth and be cold, too. I'm a bit nervous. She ties a scarf around my head to cover my eyes. She makes sure I have my gold coin as she slowly leads me to the entrance. She speaks softly and tells me to forget my stress and worries and to stay in "there" as long as I want to. "So it's my happy place, then?" I laugh dryly.

After I insert my coin in the door it takes me embarrassingly long to figure out how to actually enter the Peristal Singum. I can't be sure if I'm feeling excited or scared. I hurry my steps. I try to smile to encourage myself. I walk through hallways bedecked with scruffy collages of old wallpaper, painting and pictures and am lead to a hole. I have to kneel down to look into it – but it's dark and it twists in a downward spiral. I realise it's a slide and that I have no choice but to ride it.

I don't want to describe my Peristal Singum experience in detail, as not to ruin it for anyone. After the slide came more dark holes, pits and narrow corridors. I definitively had to push myself. I felt claustrophobic not knowing where the exit was and how long it would take to find it. I wanted out. I crawled through a tunnel and poked my head out and found my friend A. With her excitement and the light from her iPhone we faced the pits, tunnels and the darkness together. When we found the exit all I could think about was the bar and having a shot of vodka, but A wanted to keep exploring all the routes and doorways we didn't try yet. Knowing where the exit was made things easier.

Back at the bar, after a shot of Stolichnaya each, A reckoned it was a pity that she didn't have a chance to be alone in there – she missed the core of the installation: discomfort and endurance.

It costs €10 to enter the labyrinth. Only one person can enter at a time. You can't book a ticket in advance, you just show up and express interest.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Baby, it's cold outside

Although it looked like we might escape it this year, winter arrived to Berlin on last Friday, a week ago, lightly dusting the city with snow. The sun has been shining and temperatures have dropped to -5 and -10°C. Icy,  Siberian winds have forced us to find flattering ways to wear six layers at a time.

Already before Christmas we realised that we had a lot of warm clothes that we could donate to the homeless for winter: A's old winter jacket, big cotton sweaters and countless mittens and woollen socks. Altogether it was two full, big, bags that we lugged to the Motz Kiez Café on Wühlischstraße, near Boxhagener Platz yesterday – finally.

"Das Leben ist Kein U-Bahnhof" is a campaign aimed at collecting winter jackets and donations for the homeless here in Berlin through the website I also recommend reading Exberliner magazine's article on what a scam the clothes collection bins are!

It's colder out there for some than for others.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012


The Oscar nominations are in, the Berlinale kicks off in ten days. Time to eat, live and breathe film for a few weeks. Last Friday we saw The Artist at Cinestar Original im Sony Center – the French, silent, black-and-white film that has enticed film critics everywhere. We, too, liked it: it was a great feel-good film that had us forget about everything else for 100 minutes. And the dog is fantastic! Today it was a whole different story as we viewed Kriegerin, a German film that came out in January, at Hackesche Höfe Kino in Mitte. It's the final project or thesis project by director David Wnendt, that describes the neo-nazi scene in Brandenburg, just outside Berlin. I found the film interesting, a little naive, and the cast of young actresses was amazing – definitively the German film to see this year. As a new Berliner and foreigner, it's indeed interesting to gain insight to the hate and violence brewing in the "suburbs" – something you luckily aren't faced with in central Berlin. The dialogue wasn't hard to follow and the story wasn't complicated, so Kriegerin can be viewed without having mad German skills.

The next film I'm looking forward to seeing is the Finnish film Iron Sky, about space nazis, that premieres at Berlinale 2012 in the Panorama Special series.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

French vegan brunch in Friedrichshain

Friedrichshain has finally gotten a vegan brunch option – to my knowledge its first one! French café Ohlàlà on Mainzer Straße began serving a weekly Saturday vegan brunch today: think croissants, crepes and mini quiches (€9.90). I emailed for a reservation and was lucky to get a cancellation spot for the one o'clock seating, and so L and I got the opportunity to try the novelty of French vegan cuisine ahead of the curve.

The difference to the typical Berliner breakfast is the multitude of sweet things and the lack of fresh greens – in one end of the counter I spotted a salad of fresh fruit and in the other end a bowl of carrots julienne. Our favourites were the mini crêpes, the cup cakes (the pink ones and the peanut butter ones) and the Pain Perdu (french toast). On the savoury side the seductive mini quiches in four different flavours stole my heart – no wonder that they kept running out! I pigged out on croissants, pain au chocolat, bread, crêpes and cup cakes, so by the time I made it to the other end of the counter I had very little appetite left for main courses. Maybe that's why I found the garlicky and vinegary bean salad the tastiest? For the shepherd's pie-like hachis parmentier and the two stews (ratatouille and creamy mushroom ragout, blanquette de "veax") were less interesting than any of the breakfast items.

With a bowl of café au lait (of soy milk), a big apfelschorle the brunch cost €14.10 – a reasonable price.
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