Sunday, August 31, 2014

Du Bonheur: A Little Bit of France In Berlin

Berlin has lots of bakeries, pastry shops, and cafes. Some of my favorites include Cafe Blaumond in Prenzlauer Berg, Mr. Minsch in Kreuzberg, and Aileen and Priscilla in Friedrichshain. Yet, even at these wonderful places, I've never been able to find a really good croissant.

Luckily, I've discovered Du Bonheur. Nestled in Berlin's Mitte district, Du Bonheur offers a wonderful selection of pastries, tarts, macaroons, quiches, soups, baguettes, and cakes. 
Run by two French trained chefs, this warm and friendly cafe/bakery has the best croissants I've been able to find in the city. Their savory treats are also worth a try.

One downside to Du Bonheur is the coffee, which compared to the pastries is merely adequate. On the other hand, visiting this traditional French bakery is like going to Paris. Du Bonheur has je ne sais quoi, that certain French style that's difficult to replicate outside of France.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

OppoSuits: The Anti-Suit

Berlin's latest trend in men's fashion is the OppoSuit. Funny designs and colorful patterns mark these so-called anti-suits. An OppoSuit is the exact opposite of a regular business suit (apart from the quality and the fitting). An OppoSuit is not a costume, but a piece of apparel that can be worn like a business suit or as a casual outfit. 

For some, these stylishly cut suits verge on the tacky. Yet, for the self-assured man that's not afraid of being the center of attention, these suits offer a whimsical alternative to the boring pinstripe. If I were 30 years younger, I would certainly have one. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Adam Sucht Eva: Nude Dating on TV

Like the USA, Europe has its share of mindless Reality TV shows. The latest to hit Germany is Adam Sucht Eva (Adam Seeks Eve), aimed at the gawker and voyeur demographic. The Adam Sucht Eva franchise originated in the Netherlands and has various incarnations around the world. The show pairs naked contestants on a tropical "deserted" island where an Eve must select between two handsome competing Adams.

In the first episode, we are introduced to Eve (Ricarda), a shapely 23 year old medical student, who tells us that she's glad to be naked and free of clothes. We then meet, Thomas (Adam 1) who's athletic, creative, and a sort of anti-macho figure who likes woman with small breasts. (Perhaps, he likes his women small since his endowment is rather humble itself.) Off camera, we hear a narrator say, 'naked as God created.' This gives the show an ecclesiastical flavor, and reminds us that Eva Sucht Adam isn't just some gratuitous excuse to see naked bodies. Shortly thereafter, Ricardo (Adam 2) appears. Ricardo is a less romantic version of Adam 1, but buffer and certainly bigger in the penis department. Who will Eve choose?

During the show, viewers are treated to meaningless dialogue, contrived plot situations, and voyeuristic camera shots. Even the scenes of this beautiful tropical island become boring after watching 10 minutes of this drivel.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Germany's Newest Trend: Loom Bandz

Friendship bracelets have been around a long time, but now they've morphed into something new: colorful silicone rings intertwined like rubber bands and made into bracelets. Known as Loom Bandz (Loom Bands), these rainbow-colored bracelets first became a hit among teenage girls, but now they can be seen on the likes of Prince William, David Beckham, and Miley Cyrus. They're easy to make, inexpensive, and durable. In fact, they'll likely outlast this current trend. 

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Berlin ist Arm Aber Sexy: Berlin's Charismatic Mayor Resigns

Yesterday's announcement by Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit that he would resign his office came as a surprise to most people, but it wasn't completely unexpected. The nearly three year delay (and counting) in opening BER, Berlin's new airport, raised questions regarding Wowereit's credibility and management skills.

Wowereit, Berlin's charismatic and first openly gay mayor, did much to shape Berlin's image as an attractive international city. During his 13.5 years in office, he saw Berlin transform into one of Europe's most vibrant and popular destination points. When Wowereit became Mayor in 2001, Berlin was near bankruptcy and many felt the city was in a downward spiral. His personal style helped calm nerves as illustrated by his slogan "Berlin ist Arm aber Sexy" (Berlin is Poor but Sexy). Known in some circles as the "Party" Mayor, Wowereit hobnobbed with the rich and the famous while never neglecting Berlin's multicultural population. I even had the opportunity of briefly chatting with him at a ceremony commemorating gay victims of the Holocaust. As expected, he was very personable and charming.

However, Wowereit was not without his critics. His handling of the BER Airport fiasco reinforced Berlin's image of mismanagement, graft, and bureaucratic red-tape. At one time, Wowereit was one of Germany's most popular politicians, but with rising costs and a still uncertain opening date for the BER, Wowereit became an easy scapegoat.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Berlin's Lenin Statue Lost?

City of Berlin authorities have admitted that the giant statue of Lenin that once towered over Lenin Square (now known as United Nations Plaza) in Berlin's Friedrichshain district is lost. This came to light after museum curators requested it for an upcoming exhibition. The statue was torn down after German reunification, cut into 129 pieces and buried in a pit in Köpenick. According to city officials, the exact location of the statue is now unknown and would be too costly to find.  

The far left party, Die Linke, has suggested that the statue's mysterious disappearance is ideologically motivated. After all, for many it represents a time of repression. 

Today, Berlin has few reminders of its socialist past. There's a small statue of Karl Marx located just down the street from where the Lenin statue once stood. Of course, unlike Lenin, Marx was primarily an economic philosopher, not a ruthless dictator responsible for the deaths of thousands of dissidents.  

Personally, I think that monuments of our past, however repugnant, should be preserved and displayed. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana).

Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy National Toilet Paper Day

Yesterday, we almost ran out of toilet paper, and it immediately became number one on my shopping list. Without a doubt, toilet paper is one of those inventions that makes life easier. According to a recent survey49 percent of people choose toilet paper as their number one necessity if stranded on a desert island (ahead of food), and 69 percent agree that toilet paper is the 20th Century 'convenience' most taken for granted. That's one reason toilet paper has it's own holiday, observed every August 26th. So today, when nature calls, remember that what you're reaching for was invented in 1857 by Joseph Gayetty, one of history's unsung hero's.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Excellent Italian Restaurant in Berlin Friedrichshain! Ausgezeichnete Italienische Restaurant in Friedrichshain!

At last, I've finally eaten at Ristorante a Mano, a traditional Italian restaurant not far from where I live. I've passed by many times but never stopped by. Ristorante a Mano has excellent service, a great ambience, and savory Italian food. There are no gimmicks, just quality food at affordable prices. Located at Strausberger Platz and set far back from busy Karl-Marx-Allee, Ristorante a Mano is a favorite among Italian expats and neighborhood residents. The lunch special for about 8 Euro, includes a small appetizer, soup or salad, main course, and dessert. The house wine is also excellent. Stop by. It's worth a visit.

Endlich waren wir im Ristorante a Mano mal essen. Schon oft bin ich vorbeigekommen und fühlte mich angesprochen. Die schöne Dekoration mit dem vielen frischen Obst auch vor dem Restaurant ist sehr einladend.

Vorab gab es große leckere grüne Olive und italienische Mortadella. Dazu gab es einen Beilagensalat, der sehr lecker war. Die Gemüse und Kartoffeln waren auch fein! Die Spaghetti mit Scampi und Gemüse der Saison in Weißweinsauce waren extrem lecker. So wie echte Italiener das machen: die Nudeln in leichtem Sugo geschwenkt (und nicht in Sahnesauce ertränkt)! Großes Lob.

Der Service war sehr charmant, angenehm zurückhaltend, professionell, und freundlich. Auf das Essen mussten wir etwas länger als gewohnt warten, aber das war noch okay. Ich empfehle das Tagesgericht, die rund 8 Euro kostet. Wir kommen wieder!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Coexisting With Wasps in Berlin

It is't my imagination after all! According to experts, there are more wasps in Berlin this summer than in past years. In part, this is because of the mild winter and early spring. Wasps are annoying, and for the next three to four weeks, they will be at their peak making life miserable for people eating  at outdoor cafes and restaurants. 

Yet, the experts insist, wasps aren't that aggressive, and they usually bite only when threatened. This can come about by vigorous hand waiving, blowing on them (the increased CO2 content of exhaled air triggers an alarm signal), and human sweat, which makes wasps aggressive. 

Rather than trying to kill wasps, the best way to combat them is to draw their attention away from you. Experts recommend placing a bowl of overripe fruit in a discrete part of your garden or backyard (grapes work best) and away from your dining table. The wasps are drawn to the fruit and away from you. At outdoor cafes and restaurants avoiding wasps is nearly impossible. But if you want to reduce the number of wasps buzzing around you, remove the sugar bowl or dispenser from your table, cover any sweet or alcoholic drink with a napkin, and try your best to ignore them. After all, they seldom bite unless threatened. 

Wasps also have a positive side: they love to eat mosquitoes! And mosquitoes really are out to bite us.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Vegan Treat in the Heart of Friedrichshain

Wow! I never thought vegan food could taste this good. Goura Pakora, a vegan restaurant specializing in fusion Indian/Middle Eastern food, is a small restaurant that can easily be missed among the scores of restaurants off of Simon-Dach Straße. In fact, I didn't even notice Goura Pakora until very recently. That was my loss.

Located around the corner from where I live in Friedrichshain, Goura Pakora offers flavorful food at reasonable prices. Be advised that the portions are generous! I especially liked the Thali and Dosa. And although the Goura Pakora sign says vegetarian, it's really vegan. They don't use Honey for gosh sakes. Now, that's vegan.

Eating at Goura Pakora is an island of calm in the middle of the hectic Friedrichshain scene. The service is friendly and fast. There's also ample outdoor seating during the summer months and a beautifully decorated interior for those bad weather days. Goura Pakora is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in Berlin.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Someone Has Soiled the Air

Today I had a real Berlin moment. I was standing in the grocery checkout line at my local Kaisers behind two men who really smelled bad. Their odor permeated the entire checkout area, and I could see other people in the line wince from the stench. The guys bought two bottles of cheap vodka and paid with small coins, which took the distressed cashier minutes to count. When they finally left, the cashier reached under the register and whipped out a can of air freshener. "May I spray?" she asked me (in German, of course). I signaled my approval and thanked her! She sprayed and waved her hands about. The other customers smiled with relief.

Apparently this is not an uncommon experience. There are a lot of alcoholics and homeless people who camp out in the area, and I frequently see them buying alcohol and cigarettes. (Unfortunately, soap is never on their shopping list.) The cashiers must experience this regularly, to have air deodorizer so readily available. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

No Window Screens in Europe

I've never understood why Europeans don't use window screens. It's summer, and even in a big city like Berlin there are plenty of insects. Considering how few homes and buildings have air conditioning, you would think that window screens would be useful in keeping out mosquitoes and flies while letting fresh air into the house. Europeans usually just whisk insects away, swat them or simply endure them.

Normally, I would leave the windows open at night, but here in Berlin, I keep them tightly shut for fear of mosquitoes, which really do a number on me. It's a trade-off that I'm will to endure: hot and stifling nights but relatively few bites.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Some of the Best Cafes in Berlin

Berlin is a city of cafes. Here are some of my favorites.

Cafe Blaumond

Cafe Blaumond is a cozy cafe located on a quiet street in Prenzlauer Berg. In a neighborhood full of cafes, Cafe Blaumond stands out as one of the best not only in Prenzlauer Berg but in all of Berlin. The cakes, salads, and especially the quiches are top notch. I especially like their homemade Spinach-Gorgonzola quiche and rhubarb cake. Yum! The coffee's good too. There's limited outdoor seating, but the interior is very inviting, especially on bad weather days. The friendly service and pleasant atmosphere make Cafe Blaumond one of my favorite places to hang out. 

Priscilla Port of Rum and Soca

Coffee and Quiche
at Cafe Blaumond
Karl-Marx-Allee is one of Berlin's busiest streets. Yet, sitting at Priscilla's, one hardly notices the buses, trucks, and cars rushing by. The canopied trees and wide green space buffer Priscilla from the street noise making it seem almost rustic. (It really does!) For an afternoon break while touring Karl-Marx-Allee, I recommend this cafe that has an East German charm.

Cafe Casero

Cafe Casero is my local neighborhood cafe in Friedrichshain. I love it. The coffee, panini, and breakfast plates are reasonable and appetizing. The low key atmosphere of Cafe Casero stands in stark contrast to touristy Friedrichshain. It's my escape where I can read the newspaper, listen to wonderful music, and enjoy a cup of coffee at a table under the trees.  

Chez Gustave

Chez Gustave is a charming and very friendly French cafe that's tucked away in Mitte. They have a wonderful selection of sandwiches and salads. I particularly like the coffee. I wish I had known about Chez Gustave when I worked in Wilmersdorf, it was on my route home. On the downside, Chez Gustave has a limited selection of pastries and cakes. 

Sankt Oberholz

Just Me
St. Oberholz is a well-known cafe in large space in Mitte. Most people buy a coffee and camp out at St. Oberholz for hours using the excellent, free Wi-Fi connection. The coffee isn't great and the upper floor can get very hot in summer, but it does have a pleasant, slightly rustic decor, and it has a sort of "work energy," because so many people come here to work on their cool Berlin startup projects. If you're looking for a place to use the Internet then St. Oberholz is the place.