Practically every time in the last several months that I've mentioned to someone that I would be going to Berlin, my fellow conversant would reply emphatically: "I LOVE that city!" It was clear to me before I arrived that Berlin is indeed one of the world's truly great metropolises, teaming with a dynamic variety of people and food and things to see and buy. I quickly discovered that it was in fact so robust a destination that I'd definitely have some trouble selecting what to do with the time I have here. So in a sort of pick-something-out-of-a-hat technique, I randomly selected a few items from the list of attractions I'd made and set out to do as many of them as I could before giving in to exhaustion.
The first thing to tackle was beginning the process of familiarizing myself with the trams, buses, subways and trains that web the city in a marvelous but extremely complicated transportation system. When I rode the tram to the station nearest my apartment, my task was to transfer to the commuter rail (S-Bahn) which sounded easy enough. It was not, however, and I ended up walking around for a good half hour before discovering the entrance on a completely different street than the one where the tram had dropped me off.
Which turned out to be a fine thing, because it was lunch time and I was hungry and there at the entrance to the S-Bahn was the Curry Piraten (please note the crossed bones on the Piraten flag are sausages). Berliners are famous for their love of a dish called currywurst. What is currywurst you ask innocently? Take a pretty decent grilled frankfurter, slice it in 2 inch segments and throw it in a paper dish. Next slather the mound of meat nubbins in copious amounts of ketchup and then for the finishing touch, take a huge shaker of yellow curry powder and douse the whole conglomeration liberally. Think I'm making that up? Well I'm not. And I've since discovered that there is a currywurst stand about every 100 feet or less throughout the entire city.
It seemed the perfect dish with which to begin my culinary adventure in Berlin. I ordered mine with Zwiebeln (onions) and Brot (bread). Want to know what it tasted like? A bunless hotdog with ketchup and the vague suggestion of a hint of curry. While it certainly wasn't bad tasting, I sure didn't find myself getting very excited about it either. It makes me wonder if Vienna sausages come in curry flavor...?
I wolfed down my currywurst standing at a tall table cheek to jowl with busy Berliners on their lunch break and then hurried to the S-Bahn platform for a quick journey over to Charlottenburg Palace.
Charlottenburg Palace is one of the older structures in the city (remember not many buildings survived the Battle of Berlin in 1945) and I was headed to one of the palace's peripheral outposts that has been turned into the Brohan Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. When I stepped up to the counter to purchase my ticket, I was excited to see a notice for an exhibition I knew I would love - original posters by Alphonse Mucha exhibited side by side with album covers and concert posters from the 70s which were also adjacent to images from recent Japanese Manga novels. That may sound a bit odd, but it makes perfect sense insofar as both of the modern iterations borrow heavily from the late 19th century poster work done by Mucha. Sorry - no pictures - just an agreeable review.
When I finished up my tour of the Brohan, I walked across the street to the courtyard outside the palace when I saw that there was a busy Christmas market in progress. Eastern Europeans really love Christmas and they have huge fairs with special foods, decorations and gifts to help celebrate. Berlin must have at least a dozen of these large markets and luckily I had stumbled upon one in full swing.
I walked around for a little bit to get my bearings and see what was being offered. The first item I decided to try was a nice steaming hot mug of Gluwein, which is essentially the German version of mulled wine. It was a cold misty afternoon and the Gluwein really hit the spot. I strolled around looking at pigs roasting on spits, hand knitted mittens, mounds of candy and Christmas decorations for a good while. The second item I decided to buy won me over on visuals alone: candied grapes! And I'm talking about the same sort of candy you find on a candied apple - hard and sweet and red. Doesn't it look fabulous, though?
It didn't taste like much of anything but sweet, sweet, sweet. The fresh grapes added a really interesting texture to the mix, though. I wish I'd thought to stick my tongue out in a mirror and see how red it was!
After a bit more ambling about, I realized I was already pretty tired and ready to go back to my apartment and recuperate. I'd forgotten how much energy it takes when absolutely everything involves a new concept. I stopped at a grocery store near my apartment and selected some items to cook for dinner. I was amazed when I saw a number of different products on the shelves labelled "Trader Joe's"! It's in the same exact font as the chain in the States, too. I'll have to investigate that interesting arrangement when I return home.
By the time I'd prepared my dinner, done a little writing and organized myself for the next day, it was well after midnight. And let me tell you, it sure felt good to crawl under that duvet.