Summer: an ongoing Berlin love affair

It always comes upon you suddenly, the Berlin summer. One day you’re shivering in your down coat at the playground, lamenting with friends how it is already May but barely 10 degrees celsius. The next day you’re sweating in your shirtsleeves, the powerful sun beating down on your cycling helmet. Though the daffodils peeping out in the park might have been hinting at warmer weather for a while, the abrupt shift leaves no time to adjust your wardrobe. England makes up for its lack of a proper summer by giving you a long and promising spring. Here, there is no such gradual move from thick woollies and heavy boots to a cotton cardigan and lightweight shoes. However sudden, the glorious thing about that day, that first day of sunshine, is that Berlin erupts into summer – the streets busy with ice-cream eating children, cafes spilling out onto pavements, parks filled with rich barbecue smoke, families packing cars for lazy lake days – and you fall in love with the city all over again. Four highlights of our early summer season so far, which you might consider if you’re heading to the Haupstadt before October.

Ice-cream at Rosa Canina on Arnswalder Platz (Prenzlauerberg)

Finding the best ice-cream in town

This title will be challenged by other Berlin residents, but I’d call Rosa Canina the best ice-cream dealer in town. The quality of the ice-cream is unbeatable – creamy, sharp, inventive (buttermilk lemon right through to pumpkin seed), not too sweet – all whilst not being extortionately expensive. We have two Rosa Canina parlours within a stone’s throw of our place. We are frequent summertime visitors to both, but the just renovated one on Arnswalder Platz has the advantage of being slightly less discovered, large and airy, on a shady side of the street for hot summer days, and just opposite a playground which pleases most age groups. Continue reading

Life and Customs: Germany versus Sweden


Expats living in Europe have a unique opportunity to travel and visit interesting places in many countries. Traveling from Berlin to Stockholm, for instance, is only a 75-minute jet flight – about the same time as flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the USA. If you’re an expat who hasn’t been taking advantage of this, it’s time to start!

Recently, I had a chance to compare some of the customs and practices in Germany and Sweden. I was surprised by some of the differences, but I have written about similar differences before in “Comparing Germany and France and…” Here are a few interesting and practical cultural comparisons between Germany and Sweden.

Money
Living as an expat in Germany or Austria, it can be easy to forget that the EU does not equal the euro. Most of the time it does, but as soon as you venture off to Scandinavia, the UK or eastern Europe, you are reminded that there are still ten European Union member nations (out of 28) that do not use the euro.[1] You are transported back to a time when travelers in Europe had to exchange money at the border when entering another country – back to the days of French francs, Spanish pesetas, Italian lira, and German marks. (Prior to the Schengen Agreement of 1995, travelers also had to get their passports checked and stamped.) Traveling from Germany to Denmark, for instance, means exchanging euros for Danish kroner (DKK, 1 krone = €0.13 or $0.14). If you head to Switzerland (not an EU member), you’ll need to use Swiss francs (CHF).

Stockholm harbor

Stockholm’s busy harbor is also a scenic tourist attraction. PHOTO: H. Flippo

Much of today’s money exchange problem is solved by another recent development: the wide use of credit cards, especially in Scandinavia. Need to pay for a taxi? The driver grabs his portable credit card reader and wirelessly processes your card. Any shop, grocery store or restaurant will gladly accept your credit card for payment.[2] Continue reading

Healthy eating in the Hauptstadt

Daluma

Salad at Daluma

One of my favourite things about working on in Mayfair, London was that I was a stone’s throw from amazing health food shops and cafes. I loved popping out on my lunch break to pick up a sweet potato, pomegranate, and feta salad, or working my way through various ranges of dehydrated vegetable crisps. Yes, I’m a complete sucker for that sort of thing – and always happy to indulge my predilection for obscure but yummy green juices.

Since moving to Berlin, I’ve never quite found anything that could compare. Yes, most cafes sell sandwiches and salads. Yes, the range of organic supermarkets and products is pretty much unbeatable in this part of the world. But, nothing quite to the easy-access health food extreme I had been enjoying in London. Bread and cheese were hard to avoid. Why would you want to, you may well legitimately ask, but sometimes, just sometimes, you fancy something not quite so heavy. Until recently that is, when I made the joyful discovery of three new places all in Mitte, which is conveniently close enough to work and to home. So, if you’re similarly a health-food nut like me, here are three recommendations for when you come to the Hauptstadt. Continue reading

Tag der Deutschen Einheit: a view of Berlin 24 years on

As I sat looking out over the tourist boats on the Spree, drinking up the soft autumn sunshine, I had a flickering insight that this moment encapsulated much of modern Berlin. How fitting, I thought, for the occasion, and returned my mind to the conversation. This was last Friday (3rd October) – Tag der Deutschen Einheit – and 24 years since reunification. As the history of this national holiday has been written about in excellent detail elsewhere on this blog and website, I shall stay in the present. So what was striking about this relatively commonplace scene for a Hauptstadt dweller?  Continue reading

Not Käsespätzle again please …

The night we moved to Berlin we drove around in a snowstorm desperately trying to find a restaurant with a kitchen still open at 10pm on a Tuesday evening. Not knowing the neighbourhood, we dashed into the first warmly lit place we saw, hoping not to slip on the thick crusts of ice covering the pavement. What luck – it was a vegetarian restaurant, and they were still serving! My memory may be skewed by the simple relief of satiating my hunger on that bleak night, but the meal has stayed with me as some of the most delicious I have ever eaten. With both of us vegetarian, that the whole menu was meatless certainly helped. In due course, it became our favourite local restaurant; the surefire go to place when we had friends to stay. Such was the quality of the food and the subtlety of the flavours that we knew even the most committed meat-eaters would enjoy it. Continue reading

Incorporating a New Worldview, Into Your Old Life

It’s fairly common to feel like an alien at times, while living in a foreign country. But now, when I come home to Canada for my regular summer visits, I often feel like a bit of an alien here too. In recent conversations with family and friends at home, I am finding that my opinions and perspectives about both everyday and fundamental issues are differing from theirs, sometimes to the extreme. This has made me stop to consider how my expat life has changed my views on certain issues, and how it may be affecting my various relationships. Being “worldly” and “cultured” are often touted as beneficial, but how does one learn to incorporate such qualities into relationships with those who have lived their entire lives in the land you left?

Continue reading

Beware of the “Mexican” Restaurant

Originating from the west coast of the US, Mexican food has long been a staple in my diet. On my first forays into Europe, I made a few optimistic attempts to find suitable restaurants to satisfy my cravings for chips with salsa, fish tacos, over-sized greasy burritos, and cheesy enchiladas. Just about every single attempt was a complete and utter failure, leaving me homesick and a bit sick in the stomach too.

The first time I tried Mexican across the Atlantic, it was in England. Mind, the English aren’t exactly known for their abundance of spicy food. The salsa was chunky ketchup, the chips oversalted, and the food was unseasoned and tasteless. I was miserable. Continue reading

Spargelzeit

The first whiff of anticipation comes in early April when you notice the odd crate in the supermarket, labelled “from Spain” and extortionately priced. You keep your eye on the incrementally falling price over the following fortnight. And when it hits seven euros a kilo and the label changes to “from Germany”, your mouth begins to water. Then the man with the muddy apron sets up his simple stall in the street, red crates overflowing with carefully aligned knobbly white sticks, sorted by thickness. Only at this point do the restaurants follow suit and proudly announce their new menus on pavement blackboards. This is when you know Spargelzeit, “Asparagus season”, has truly arrived.

There is possibly something a little ritualistic in the German attitude towards white asparagus. One of the few vegetables to which seasonal scarcity still applies and, to my knowledge, not so widely eaten outside of Germany (in Britain we always eat green), here it is considered a rare delicacy and an annual cause for occasion. Almost all restaurants (even the local Italian) bow to the traditions of this unusual vegetable, incorporating into their Spring menus with strict adherence the prescribed dishes: asparagus with potatoes and hollandaise sauce (or for simpler palates, melted butter); asparagus with potatoes, hollandaise and scrambled eggs; for carnivores, asparagus with potatoes, hollandaise and slices of cold ham, and finally a gorgeously creamy asparagus soup. Continue reading