Photo Potpourri – Week 7

Spring has finally sprung!
The sun is shining, rain is pouring, flowers are blooming, and Germans are picknicking.  It took 1.5 months for Spring to catch on here in Germany but we are so very glad it did!  Unfortunately for me, with sunshine comes sunburn.  I’ve only been “lightly toasted” so far but I am very, very eagerly awaiting the arrival of our shipment from the USA which (if I remember correctly) includes some sunscreen.
Speaking of our shipment, we erroneously thought it was arriving last Friday.  We were sorely disappointed when we realized that we had misread an email from the shipping company.   I am desperate to have our stuff back, especially my clothes and our kitchen equipment.  I have been dreaming about our Wustof’s and mandolin as I struggle to slice, chop & mince with dull knives.  Oh, and I also miss our measuring spoons.  It appears as though Germans aren’t into measuring ingredients…?  Neither of the apartments we have lived in so far have had measuring spoons or cups.  What?!  I haven’t come across any in the grocery stores either, though I haven’t been to a real kitchen store yet.
Anywho, until our shipment arrives I will have to julienne by hand and do Gordon Ramsay-style measuring.  (If you don’t get that reference go check out Gordon’s videos on YouTube, his “small pat” of butter is half the stick.)
For your enjoyment, here are some photos from last week, along with a throwback I just found on my camera!

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1. I just found this picture of us on Christmas Day in Old Town Alexandria on my camera!  I will always miss that beautiful waterfront.

2. Since I don’t have a reason to get out of bed job right now I have turned my attentions to fitness & cooking (contradictory?).  In regards to cooking, I have been trying to tackle new ingredients, techniques, etc.  Last week I attempted to make this recipe for Mole Verde Zacatecano from my new best friend, Saveur.com.  I foolishly thought that German supermarkets would stock tomatillos because I had an idea in my head that they were also in Spanish cuisine…wrong on all accounts!  Consequently, I had to sub some green tomatoes from Spain (not an adequate substitute) and the mole didn’t quite work.  I also ran out of fresh jalapeños and had to use a habanero so it was hot, hot, hot.  Despite the missing ingredients, etc. it was very tasty! 5/5 would make again, with or without the correct produce. 🙂

3. Banh mi wieners!  I was inspired by Damn Delicious to make this spin on one of our favorite Vietnamese sandwiches.  It’s not sophisticated or difficult but it is damn delicious.  And it gave me motivation to pickle some carrots!

4. The humungous Berlin Hauptbahnhof (central train station).  We popped in here for a few minutes on our way to the main tourist area of the city just to see the spectacle!  It is the biggest train station I’ve ever been to – there are four floors with loads of restaurants, clothing stores, grocers, etc.  It’s pretty cool to visit just to see all of the hustle and bustle!

5. After seeing the Hauptbahnhof, we walked our way over to see some of the most popular attractions in the city.  The building in this picture is the Reichstag building where the German parliament meets.  It is possible to go up inside the glass dome and walk around the edge of the dome (example) but you have to register ahead of time.   Thus, the dome will have to wait for another day!

6. I think this picture pretty accurately sums up the feel of last weekend – sunny & colorful.  I love these new kicks I got from H&M for $10!

Easter in Bamberg & Leipzig

Beer, food & parks.
That pretty much sums up our vacation last weekend to Bamberg & Leipzig!  As I said in my post the other day, Alex had four days off work for Easter so we took advantage of it by escaping the hustle and bustle of Berlin for the countryside.

First we headed down to Bamberg, my new favorite Bavarian town (not that I’ve been to many, but still).  Bamberg is a popular destination for beer lovers and tourists, who enjoy it’s ‘romantic’ super-Bavarian appearance.  The atmosphere of the town reminded me of our beloved Old Town Alexandria; both have that certain charm that comes with old-fashioned buildings, small cafés and beautiful waterways.  And lots of ice cream!
The Old Town of Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of it’s medieval appearance which has been preserved throughout the years and World Wars.  It is really cool to see an authentic Bavarian town rather than those that were destroyed and later rebuilt.  Bamberg is also home to a large cathedral, a sprawling abbey, and an old castle perched atop the highest hill.
Due to intermittent rain showers on Friday the town was pretty dead.  The people who ‘braved’ the rain, ourselves included, huddled inside the nine breweries to keep dry (or should I say wet?).  Bamberg is known for having great beer, especially for its Rauchbier which has a smoky flavor reminiscent of bacon!  We first enjoyed Rauchbier from a bottle here in Berlin and the delicious flavor concreted our decision to travel to Bamberg.  Large beers & large plates of food kept us warm and occupied until the sun returned in full force on Saturday – bringing a lot of tourists with it.
We were eager to enjoy the sunshine while it lasted so we spent most of the day finding new parts of the town we hadn’t seen the previous day.  We spent some time walking along the river, admiring the row houses known as “Little Venice”, exploring the Natural History Museum, and taking a mini-hike up the hill to the Altenburg castle.

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After two wonderful days in Bamberg we moved on to Leipzig, a city about two hours from Berlin.  The people who drove us, and our Air BnB host, thought it was funny that we were going to Leipzig.  We likened it to someone stopping in Richmond or Pittsburgh for a “vacation”.  Although the locals might not think there is much to see in Leipzig, there are a few main sights that are worth seeing.
We may have gotten lucky, though.  Because we were there on Easter Sunday there were events going on like an outdoor music concert in the park and a medieval festival downtown.  One of Leipzig’s main tourist attractions is the very large Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Battle of the Nations monument) which was built to commemorate a victorious battle against Napoleon in Leipzig in 1813.  Another popular spot is the Leipzig Zoological Garden which we didn’t go to because of the threat of thunder storms (which never came) but I would love to go back and see it someday!  It’s supposed to be really awesome and has the world’s largest primate exhibit.  There are also a few famous churches in Leipzig where Bach once worked and where his remains are laid.
We aren’t really into seeing “touristy stuff” though so we were happy when the guy who drove us told us about an open-air music venue outside of the downtown area.  There we discovered why we had been told that Leipzig is going to be the “new Berlin”.  The ‘venue’ looked more like a backyard frat party – complete with a large Corona umbrella, a hammock, and ping-pong – but the relaxed atmosphere made for a fun time.  We spent a few hours there chatting with our driver and his friends until I got tired, which was right about the time a new slew of people were arriving (approx. 1 am).  Germans, they love the night life.

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Although Bamberg and Leipzig are quite different places they made a good combination for a short Spring vacation, and I would gladly revisit either of them!  It was nice to get away for a bit but we were happy to get back to Berlin where the beer might all be Pils, and the streets littered with cigarettes, but no one ever calls it boring.

Click below to see many more pictures from Bamberg & Leipzig!

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Photo Potpourri – Week 6

Happy [belated] Easter, everyone!
I hope you had a great holiday with lots of family, friends & candy.  Holidays away from home, whether in Germany or Virginia, are always a little bittersweet but we had a pretty awesome time last weekend.
One huge plus of living and working in Germany is the vacation time.  Legally, every person employed full-time gets a minimum of 24 vacation days.  For real.  Ready to start looking for work overseas now?
For our first vacay weekend we decided to head down South.  We spent 3 nights in the picturesque town of Bamberg before heading back north for a stop off in Leipzig, a small city near Berlin.  I have lots of photos to share with you all later but here are a few snapshots from our holiday weekend!

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1. Beautiful Bamberg!  We loved this little Bavarian town.  One really cool thing about Bamberg is that it wasn’t destroyed in any of the wars, which is kind of rare around here.  More on Bamberg will be coming soon!

2. German food is generally not my favorite.  However, when it’s done well it is soooooo good.  And giant slabs of meat smothered in gravy are what they do best!  This plate was from Gaststätte Kachelofen, a super cool restaurant in the old city.  Definitely eat there if you’re ever in Bamberg!

3. Bamberg is known for it’s many, many breweries.  We were told that there are nine breweries in the town and ninety in the surrounding area.  I think we managed to hit up 4-5 of them.  Our favorite was the Rauchbier (smoked beer) from Brauerei Schlenkerla [not pictured].

4. Happy Easter from the Freas’s!  Or Freas’?  Freases?  Who knows.  Anywho, we spent Easter Sunday in Leipzig.  We chilled in a park listening to a band play show tunes and pigged out on sausages and ice cream.

5. I got a kick out of this giant gold egg-shaped thing in Leipzig.  It seemed very appropriate for the holiday.

6. Leipzig had a really cool renaissance-type fair going on last weekend!  They had local beer and food specialties to enjoy outdoors, fun activities for kids, and costumed workers playing music.  I love stumbling across these little markets!

Alrighty, time to go edit a ton more photos! 🙂

Where the Wild Things Are

I was missing home a little this past weekend.  
It is cherry blossom season in D.C. and all of the pics on Instagram of the pretty trees has made me nostalgic.  When we went to the cherry blossom festival last year there were hardly any blossoms on the trees (thanks to bad storms) and we had to go back a few weeks later to get the full effect.  Despite the lack of blossoms, we had a great time with friends chillin’ at the marina in Southeast, drinking $14 Corona-rita’s (yay D.C.), and eating kebabs.  Who would have thought that a year later we would be eating kebabs in Germany?  Generally speaking, I don’t miss home too much yet but occasionally something triggers a little homesickness.  Usually this feeling is linked to events we won’t be able to attend – graduations, weddings, concerts, holidays, etc.  To cure it, I try to remember all of the things we can do because we’re here!

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I haven’t seen any cherry blossoms here in Berlin but there are plenty of little surprises to discover in the city.  Recently Alex and I were exploring our new neighborhood and decided to check out Volkspark Hasenheide, a large park nearby.  It is definitely one of my new favorite spots!  The park has 50 acres of open spaces and forested areas and is home to an open-air theater, mini-golf, dog parks, playgrounds, a rose garden, and my favorite feature: a small zoo!
The term ‘zoo’ might be a bit of an exaggeration for the small enclosures which mostly feature barnyard animals, but either way it was such a cool thing to find in a park!  And it doesn’t cost a penny – or rather, a Euro cent.
After perusing the zoo we took advantage of the warm(er) weather by relaxing in one Hasenheide’s many open fields.  The park was bustling with picknickers, cyclists, slackliners attempting to cross the valley.  I am really looking forward to spending lazy weekend days hanging in the park when the weather warms up and summer finally arrives.

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Special places like Hasenheide help to curb the homesickness that comes with expatriating.  It is important to remember that, while you may be missing things back home, there is always something new and exciting to do/see in your new home.  You just need to go out and find it!

To see more photos from Hasenheide park, click the link below!

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Photo Potpourri – Week 4

We were pretty busy last week because we were moving out of our old short-term rental apartment into our new long-er term apartment!  Between cleaning the old apartment and repacking and preparing to move there wasn’t much time for fun but we made up for it on the weekend.  We are loving the location of our new apartment (where we’ll be until September).  It’s only 15 minutes from where we were before, but the neighborhood is much more lively and we are just down the street from a subway stop!  The apartment itself isn’t ideal; the furniture is all quite retro and crappy and it’s lacking any kind of decor.  To be fair, the family who we are subletting from only lived here for a few months before they went on assignment in China, and during that time they had a baby.  But the apartment is large and has some nice attributes like a “winter garden” porch and a lot of large windows.  There’s some work to be done to make it feel more homey but it’s good enough for now!
Here are some pictures from last week’s moving & weekend craziness!

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1. All of our worldly possession – at least for now.  Unfortunately, it will be another few weeks until our big shipment from the USA arrives, so for now we’re living out of our very large suitcases.  It did make moving easy, though!

2. Alex immediately got to work when we first moved into the new place.  This is a pic of his new habitat: the office.

3. One of the many beautiful buildings in our new ‘hood.  Our building is, sadly, not pretty like this one but we hope someday we can find a flat in a pretty place like this!

4. The Nowkoelln Flowmarkt (a play on words on the name of the neighborhood, Neukölln) is a popular market along the canal near our new apartment.  It’s fairly large with mostly flea-market stands selling used clothing, housewares, etc.  It was packed last weekend because of the nice weather.

5. Paella!  We got this plate of chicken & shrimp paella at the Flowmarkt and it was delicious.  Spanish food isn’t super common here so it was a treat to see it at the market!  Look carefully and you can see the shrimp’s head… 😉

6. Some loser I met by the canal at the Flowmarkt who stole all of the paella.

The Wall

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The Berlin Wall, known here as the Berliner Mauer, is Berlin’s most famously infamous landmark.  The stories about it’s construction and enforcement are shocking but what is most incredible is the way Berlin has changed since the Wall fell in 1989.  Everyone here says that Berliners aren’t like other Germans; they don’t talk like other Germans, they don’t act like other Germans, and they don’t want to be like other Germans.  Everything that I’ve read about the city suggests that the after-effects of Communism are a big part of what makes Berlin special.  If we, as new wannabe Berliners, want to understand the city as it is now we need to understand what made it this way.  Luckily, we happened to be out at brunch with a group of Alex’s coworkers the weekend before last and they offered to give us a little tour of the area where the Berlin Wall once stood.

We began our history tour by heading over to Bernauer Strasse to walk the line of bricks that marks the path of the first incarnation of the Berlin Wall.  Bernauer Str. itself was split in half between West and East Berlin such that former across-the-street neighbors were suddenly on different sides of the country overnight.  The GDR used the front walls of the houses on one side of Bernauer Str. to create some of the first wall and eventually the rest of the house would be destroyed.  When they began constructing another parallel wall, any houses, businesses, churches, etc. that were in the way were demolished.  The space in between the two sides of the Wall was known as the Death Strip and was covered with sand or gravel to show the footprints of anyone who attempted to leave the East.  Along Bernauer Str. there are large pictures on the sides of the buildings that show the Wall and GDR citizens successfully, and unsuccessfully, crossing to the West side.

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Nearby, a city block of the Wall has been preserved to give a little insight into what it was like to live on the West side and look over at the East.  From an observation tower across the street you get an aerial view of the two parallel walls and the Death Strip in between.

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The next weekend we made our way over to the East Side Gallery to see another preserved portion of the Wall.  Instituted in 1990, the Gallery serves as a memorial of sorts that features 105 paintings that depict the artists hopes for a better future in Berlin.  Near the middle there is a break in the wall that opens to a park on the river Spree and is home to a memorial for peace in Korea.

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When the Wall came down life in Berlin changed dramatically and in the past 25 years the city has evolved into a place that would probably drive the GDR up a wall (pun intended).  It is a city characterized by young, free-thinking, creative, and ambitious inhabitants who are anything but conformists.

Too see more pictures from the Wall & our weekend adventures, click below!

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