Thai in the Park

Berlin is full of surprises.  It seems like every week we hear about another cool, semi-unknown, event or place in the city that blows our minds.  Our most recent discovery was the Thaiwiese (Thai meadow) market in Wilmersdorf.   The market is an unofficial event that occurs daily but the biggest turnout is on the weekend when dozens of Thai women, men, and families set up make-shift food stands in a park to sell homemade Thai classics for low prices.  For us, this is what dreams are made of.
The market is situated near the back of Preußenpark (right at the Fehrbelliner Platz U-Bahn station) and there is also a flowmarkt (flea market) at the front of the park.  At the Thai market you can find all of your favorite dishes from pad Thai to papaya salad to delicious sticky cakes wrapped in banana leaves.  The food was by far the best Thai we have had in Berlin.  Finally some real, authentic, spicy Thai food!!

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Our meal began with these chicken skewers smothered in a chunky peanut sauce.  Sweet, nutty, a little spicy – delicious!

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Next, we went for a plate of one of our very favorite Thai staples – spicy papaya salad!  I loved watching the lady crush the ingredients with a giant mortar & pestle (the kind Alex wishes we had at home) and appreciated that she asked how many chilies we wanted in the mix.  Papaya salad always puts me in a good mood. 🙂

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As our ‘entree’ we enjoyed a large plate overflowing with four kinds of Thai noodle dishes.  I’m not entirely sure what some of the dishes were but all were tasty.  I believe that the top right quadrant was some kind of Pad See Ew; to the right were glassnoodles; bottom right is of course the always popular Pad Thai; and bottom left were a denser noodle, kind of like lo mein.  It was a huge amount of noodles for only 5 euro!

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Of course we had to pair our meal with some Thai beer!

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Sadly, after the big noodle plate we were too full to try any other entrees but we could not resist getting a Thai cake dessert.  We used to buy similar cakes from the Asian markets in Virginia and they never disappoint.  I’m not sure what these are called or made from buuuut I think these kinds of cakes are usually made from rice flour, coconut, and lots of sugar!  Which is probably why they are so incredibly delicious.  They also come wrapped in a super cute banana leaf package.

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Looking at the pictures makes me want to go back again this weekend!  Just when I thought I’d be stuck eating mediocre Asian food forever, a pop-up market in a park comes along and rocks my world.  Unique finds like the Thaiwiese are what make Berlin such a fun place to live!

Getting Touristy in Western Mitte

At some point, every new resident needs to bite the bullet and become a tourist in their city.
For us, this meant venturing out to the western edge of Mitte to see some of Berlin’s most iconic landmarks.  After nearly two months of living in Berlin we were becoming a little embarrassed by our lack of sightseeing within the city.  I am guilty of always thinking that we should save some of the sights to see when we have friends in town, but it probably makes more sense to see them first ourselves and decide which ones are really worth sharing.
Another reason why we haven’t done much sightseeing is due to Berlin’s size and lack of a real ‘tourist center’.  Most of the famous sights are scattered throughout the city, making sightseeing in Berlin quite the excursion.  However, the area in the west of Mitte between Potsdamer Platz  and Moabit has quite a few attractions in close quarters, which makes it a good jumping off point for tourists, tour buses, tour boats, tour bikes…you get the idea.

We started our tour at the Hauptbahnhof to gawk at the immense building and crowds before walking south toward the Tiergarten area.  Berlin continues to amaze me with its neighborhood diversity.  Western Mitte is very city-like – it has large modern buildings and government offices but also has many historical monuments and parks scattered throughout.  It really makes the more Eastern/Southern neighborhoods that I usually explore feel like the ‘burbs.

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A short walk away from the train station you can find the impressive Reichstag building (where the German parliament meets) which presents a really cool blend of old & new architecture.  The original structure opened in 1894 but underwent significant reconstruction after a fire in 1933, and the large glass dome finished construction in 1999.  You can actually walk in a spiral around the dome but it requires prior registration, so we’ll have to save that for another trip.
The Brandenburg Gate is also nearby, just outside the entrance to the immense Tiergarten park.  The gate is one of the most recognizable sights in Berlin.  It is featured prominently on most tourism ads/guides and the outline is emblazoned on every U-Bahn train window.  It stands in a big plaza flanked by foreign embassies and fancy-shmancy hotels, and even on a cold and windy day there were hundreds of tourists snapping pictures.

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After taking obligatory tourist pictures at the gate, and getting a pressed penny for our collection, we strolled through the wooded grounds of the Tiergarten.  The park is the second largest in Germany (520 acres) and is home to monuments, statues, a rose garden, an English garden, and the palace that houses the German president.  As the name suggests (literal translation = animal + garden) there are also lots of squirrels, birds, and fish to see!  I think Berlin’s parks are one of my favorite features of the city.  It it nice to be able to get lost in the woods and escape the concrete jungle for a while.

Big city life has been pretty interesting thus far – I’ve never lived somewhere that was so new to me.  To be fair, I have only lived in 3 cities and two of them were quite small, but still, the amount of stuff in Berlin is incredible.  Living outside of Washington DC was occasionally cool but it didn’t offer me the same opportunity for discovery because I had already been there so many times growing up.  I had already exhausted the Smithsonian and the other aspects of the city I pretty much despised (how many bland government buildings and $8 beers can a person tolerate?).
Needless to say, I am very happy that Berlin has so much character and even lifelong residents say they discover something new in the city every day.  I’m sure that if we live here long enough the newness will wear away and Berlin will lose some of its lustre, but a city of 3.5 million people will never be boring.
So, even though it takes a little effort to haul ourselves across the city looking for tourist attractions, it is always worth our while.

Click the link below to see more photos!

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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!

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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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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Photo Potpourri – Week 3

This week was pretty quiet – we didn’t do much other than look at more apartments and then crash on the couch afterwards.  But, the weekend brought more excitement, which was in part due to the fabulous weather!  We did a little sightseeing (I’ll post about that later), hung out with new friends, and finally saw one of our favorite bands live.  Here are some of the highlights!

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1. A line of brick marking where the original Berlin Wall once stood near Bernauer Strasse (where the GDR first began building).

2. Recognize this art??  The East Side Gallery is a long stretch of the wall that was left standing and is now a ‘gallery’ of street art and graffiti.  This section is painted to represent Pink Floyd’s The Wall album/film.  Last year we saw Roger Waters perform it live in DC as a sort of stage show/concert with crazy visual effects and it was incredible!

3. On the eastern side of the East Side Gallery there is a large memorial for peace in Korea.  Unfortunately the signs around the memorial were only in Korean & German so I’m not really sure why the memorial was constructed but I assume it has to do with anti-communist sentiments.  The main structures of the memorial are large vertical rectangles covered with silver stuff (thin wire?) with fluffy balls caught in the coils…I really don’t understand it but maybe if I could read the signs it would have made sense! 🙂

4. The abandoned Tempelhof Airport now functions as a gigantic park and is a favorite weekend spot for Berliners.  The entire airport has been left untouched, including the terminals which are open for tours.  The long runways serve as a playground for kids & adults who bike, skateboard, roller skate, and even windsurf!  Thousands of people gather on the grassy areas to BBQ with friends.  It’s a pretty amazing sight to see and experience.

5. The sunset over Tempelhof.  The airport is so large that it’s like being at the beach – all you can see is open space all the way to the horizon.

6. Our first concert in Berlin was one of our favorite bands, Broken Bells.  The two main guys behind the group are also in other popular bands so they don’t tour together very often, so we jumped on the chance to finally see them live!  It was a great show at a great venue that reminded us of our DC favorite, the 9:30 club.

Photo Potpourri – Week 1

Let’s be real: not every picture I snap on my phone deserves it’s own blog post or even Instagram upload.  Nonetheless, some of my favorite photos to look back on are of the little things.  I’m talking about the meals, drinks, funny posters, funny people, etc. that fill the holes in what will someday become a diffuse spiderweb of memories of our time here.  For that reason I am going to try to post a little collection of the misc. photos we take every week!  If you follow me on Instagram or are [un]fortunate enough to receive my Snapchats you may have seen one or two of these before.

Week #1: 6.3.2014 – 13.3.2014

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1. Quote from the Dalai Lama on the wall in Little Tibet where we had dinner on our first night.

2. Random picture of a street in Kreuzberg (the neighborhood we are currently living in).

3. The Fernsehturm aka Berlin TV Tower – it is the 4th tallest freestanding structure in Europe!  There is a restaurant in the ball that rotates!  We will have to go up it sometime.

4. Currywurst!  Essentially a hotdog covered in ketchup mixed with curry powder.  It’s one of the signature street foods in Berlin, so much so that every mayoral candidate is photographed outside a currywurst stand!

5. Yes, that is a real compact disc.  My awesome music loving friend Anna made this mix CD for us!  She also drew the cover and included lists of things to do and not to do in Berlin.  She’s the best.

6. Aloe drink!!!  I used to get one of these deeeeelicious Korean beverages every time we went to the ethnic supermarket in VA.  We were thrilled when we found an Asian food market here in Mitte!  The drink is flavored like aloe with little cubes of coconut floating in it.

That’s all for this week!  Bonus: you can now count to six in German. 🙂