To kick off week two in Berlin, I’ve enrolled in a one-month intensive German language course. It’s true that most people I’ve encountered here, German and other, speak English, and many of them fluently. It’s a nice safety blanket, but I didn’t move to Germany to stay within my comfort zone.
I’ll be needing much more than a month of classes to intelligently contribute to any German conversation, but it’s a start. The curriculum is fast-paced and engaging, and the class is really a lovely group of people.
In our free time, and since my last update, Max and I have explored much more of Wedding, our current neighborhood, and wandered around other parts of Berlin in search of kombucha, matcha lattes, vegan food, food in general, good shopping spots, good drinking spots, and the rest. I’m continuously falling in love with this city, and here are a few reasons why:
1. A vegetarian restaurant and speakeasy in Mitte
At the end of a dimly lit alley, tucked behind the Westin Grand Hotel is the unassuming yet wildly delicious Cookies Cream. The first floor is a speakeasy, and the second: the creme de la creme of vegetarian restaurants. The three or four course prix fix menu is indulgent for sure, and an absolute must for vegetarians and foodies alike. Everything on the menu is vegetarian, and the majority of the dishes are purely vegan. I ordered chicory with camomile, baked walnuts, and grapes; grilled leeks with horseradish and sesame chips; and baked aubergine with corn puree, green beans, peanuts, and papadam. Papadamnnnnnnn.
2. A Berlinale opening night party at the Audi Lounge
After dinner at Cookies Cream, my friend and I headed to the Audi Lounge, where her friend was performing for the opening night of Berlinale, The Berlin International Film Festival. The Audi Lounge has perfect and close-up views of the red carpet, but of course we were twenty minutes late (that one’s on you, Cookies Cream) so we missed the celebrities do their red carpet thing. Not to worry, the best part of the event was the incredible performance by OSCA, a Japanese-German-English band. They put on an amazingly fun and unique show, and I hope I’ll have the opportunity to see them again.
3. A fragrance themed bar at the Ritz
As if the Berlinale party wasn’t enough, my friend and I hit up Fragrances for one or two last drinks. Located inside the Ritz Carlton, this spot is enchanting and like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Upon entering, there’s a wall on either side lined with varied perfumes. You smell each perfume, tell the bartender which scents you liked best, and they mix your cocktail according to your favorite fragrances. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a unique experience and a delicious drink. I wouldn’t frequent this spot only because the drinks are rather expensive, and the atmosphere rather pungent. Unfortunately I was at full drink capacity by this time, so I have no pictures to prove it.
4. A craft beer brewery in Wedding
A week ago Max and I checked out Vagabund, a craft beer brewery and tap room just around the corner from our apartment. Since being in Berlin, this is the first bar I’ve been to that really has a New York, specifically Williamsburg, feel. There’s no underlying compliment or insult in saying that — it’s just an observation. As it turns out, the three owners are all Americans, so the slight lumbersexual vibe totally makes sense. The staff here is super nice, the communal tables and ambient lighting make it a perfectly cozy spot, and the Doppel IPA (Double IPA) is out of this world. Seriously this is not a joke, expats pining for nostalgia and beer lovers everywhere, you MUST try the Doppel IPA.
5. Matcha Lattes in Mitte
After class one evening this past week, Max and I met up for a drink near my language school. While searching for beer, we found matcha, and I couldn’t resist. Green Tea Cafe Mamecha is the cutest little Japanese tea shop with an extensive menu of green teas, matcha flavored desserts, and bento boxes. After trying their delicious matcha lattes, I’ll definitely be back for more.
6. Kleingärten (Allotment gardens) in Wedding
Volkspark Rehberge park is way bigger than I had originally thought. Now that I have a real German phone number and access to the Internet regardless of Wifi, I have a much better feel for where I’m going in life. There’s this term, “internal compass” — I can confidently and unashamedly say I have the opposite. I literally have no idea what direction I’m going in ever.
I’ve now run all corners of this beautiful park, and just recently discovered the park’s Kleingärten. This concept was completely foreign to me before Berlin. There are community gardens in New York, where volunteering or membership gives you access to a shared garden. This is nothing like that. An allotment garden colony is a grid of neatly subdivided green space that is rented out by the city to anyone lucky enough to get off the waiting list. Each plot usually has a shed, a small cabin (most with plumbing and electricity), garden space, and a front lawn. They’re in very high demand and becoming more and more popular amongst younger families.
I’m only slightly familiar with the politics behind them, but allotment gardens emerged during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, when an influx of rural farmers moved to large cities in search of more lucrative work. Allotment gardens, at the time called “gardens of the poor”, were developed by the city to provide better living conditions for these families that were otherwise living in extreme poverty.
Today they are a luxury, seen an a refreshing escape from the city for those who have them. Inevitably, many of the plots are sought after by property developers for residential expansion.
If anyone knows more about Kleingärten, please fill me in — I find them so fascinating!
7. Brunch in Neukölln
Last Saturday night was a real trip. We went to Max’s friend’s apartment in Moabit, and I invited over a couple ladies from my language course. Let’s just say that my new Sunday morning slogan is “Death by Prosecco”, and leave it at that.
Naturally, Sunday called for a good brunch, so we headed to Roamers in Neukölln. We had to wait thirty minutes for a table, but it was well worth the wait. The tiny restaurant has a sort of hip, rustic California feel. If that makes any sense. There are plants everywhere, and the plates and drinks are overflowing with lush, healthy goodness and lotssss of garnish. The Bloody Marys are so spicy yum, and the ice cubes are frozen cherry tomatoes so the drinks don’t get watered down. Genius. I ordered the kale salad and even though they’d run out of kale, it was still phenomenal!
8. Traditional Bavarian dinner with NYC friends
A few friends from NYC were in town on Monday, and requested a traditional German dinner. I think most Americans (myself included before meeting Max) view Bavarian traditions as standard, but that’s not the case. It’s not all Dirndls, Oktoberfest, and pretzel/bratwurst/potato/cheese everything everywhere in Germany, at least not in Berlin. But that’s what our friends were hoping for, so we took them to Weihenstephaner Restaurant, the namesake of my favorite German beer. The food was a bit hefty and meaty for my liking, but we had a really fun time, and everyone loved their dishes.
9. Bikram…with Max!
That’s right, after two and a half years of pleading, Max finally came to Bikram with me on Valentine’s day! And then again on Thursday! He doesn’t know yet, but we’re definitely going tomorrow. Bikram Yoga Berlin-Mitte has a newbie special — 10 days for €20 — so obviously he has to take advantage of the amazing deal.
10. Sri Lankan food in Wedding
Instead of a fancy dinner plan for Valentine’s day (which totally isn’t a thing in Berlin) we decided that a local and simple spot would be best. Max found Naveena Path, a sweet little Sri Lankan restaurant in Wedding, and it was perfect. Plus, 80% of the menu is vegan! Most Indian restaurants have plenty of veggie options, but Naveena Path incorporates tofu, seitan, and other vegan proteins into their dishes. Our meal was delicious and we got a one liter jug of Pinot Grigio for €17. I’ll be back.
11. Vegan fast food in Prenzlauer Berg
After class last night, I went to dinner with two of my peers. Vego Foodworld is a humble little vegan restaurant in Prezlauer Berg, serving mostly fast food style dishes. There are at least twenty different veggie burger variations on the menu, as well as vegan schnitzel, pizza, and currywurst. It’s inexpensive, the portions are huge, and everything we tried was delicious.
And finally, a few pictures from running in Volkspark Rehberge park. Now I’m off for a rainy run!