Sunday, 29 September 2013


Sitting back in my parent's kitchen in Suffolk, with hot honey and lemon to nurse the second cold of the month, everything's feeling a little peculiar. The way the last month has raced by, combined with the quick re-adoption of old home routines, makes me wonder whether the last four weeks have been some fantastic, mind-blowing, perception-altering dream.
The final two days in Berlin were a great ending to a brilliant project. On Friday night I took some friends back to Gastón for an early dinner before me and two other girls headed off for an ice hockey match at the O2 World stadium. Since the last live sporting event I went to was a match at Sudbury Town FC on a very cold February afternoon about seven years ago, I was incredibly excited to be going to a big game (Eisbären Berlin, the city's ice hockey darlings, were playing Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg) at a big venue.
We were sat about seven rows from the ice pad, fantastic seats for the cheap price we paid. The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric; as the team made their entrance from the mouth of a giant inflatable polar bear, flames erupted from two jets on either side, fireworks were set off, and lights beamed across the stands. Eisbären were down two-nil at the end of the second third, but the home stand was still as vocal as ever. Drums were beating and the dedicated fans were clapping and chanting across the ice. Despite managing to claw back one goal, Eisbären lost three-one (the defeat would have been considerably worse if it weren't for the heroic efforts of their goalie Rob Zepp).
You can now call me an ice hockey convert. Eisbären, we love you.
Yesterday can't be described as anything other than strange. We woke to a gloriously blue-skied day, resenting Berlin for being so beautiful when our flights home were just hours away. Three of us went to an imbiss with a Mexican/Indian theme (tacos, quesadillas, tortillas, and naan-based pizzas were on the menu). Although the place didn't look like much from the outside, like so many good eateries in Berlin, the food was excellent. We followed it up with waffles from Glücklich am Park - our second lot in three days, equally as fabulous as the first.
My flatmate and me took one last wander down Unter den Linden, from Alexanderplatz to Parizer Platz and back, via a few tourist shops for some last-minute souvenir and present shopping. Then before we knew it we were on the S-Bahn from Landsberger Allee to Schönefeld, all of us subdued as we raced away from the heart of the city in a stunningly coloured dusk.
Forgive the drama, but every fibre of my being is glad I applied for and accepted this placement. Although elements of the course and its organisation were questionable, the writing experience was invaluable and the city itself was unforgettable. Disenchantment with England, which I was told by a friend to expect, is stirring at the back of my mind. In a couple of days, when I have come down from my month-long Berlin-induced high, I'm sure normal life out here in the sticks won't seem so bad. However, I can say with certainty that I'll be seeing Berlin again very soon. It seduced me swiftly and subtly, and I know I couldn't stay away even if I wanted to.
Berlin, du bist wunderbar.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Stumbling over the final hurdle

"Hurtling" is the only word that can be used to describe the events of the past 24 hours. The movement from having time to finish the project, and having no time at all, was worryingly fast and uncontrolled. Yesterday afternoon was a mad rush to complete the remaining editing, writing the final section introductions, and generally panicking. However, I allowed myself the night off to visit a couple of places that I have been eager to go to.
The first was a tapas bar in Neukölln called Gastón. As an enormous fan of Spanish cuisine, I was desperate to give this place a try. When I first arrived about 7:30, the tiny bar was packed out. After standing awkwardly behind the crowd at the bar for a few minutes, I gave up and left, deciding that I'd head to the jazz bar and try again later.
A few U-Bahn stops away in Kreuzberg, Yorckschlösschen reminded me of a traditional English pub. Wooden beams striped the walls and posters of jazz legends were plastered on the paintwork between them. I chose a seat in the larger back room, a small wooden table with bar stools clustered around it. The amiable middle-aged waitress came and took my order - a conversation which we managed in German - and came back shortly with a generous glass of Rioja. Sat with my book and a glass of wine, listening to soft jazz crooning over the stereo... if it wasn't for the lure of tapas, I could have stayed all night.
When I got back to Gastón, around 2 hours after my first attempt, the bar was just as full. Luckily, I spotted a stool at the end of the bar. After I'd been sat there for a minute or so, a girl and a guy a few years my seniors came to squeeze into their place on the window seat next to the bar. We got chatting (inevitably, as we were sitting so close) after I'd ordered my food and drink in an odd linguistic combination of Spanish and German. She was from Paris, a recent graduate like myself, and had been living in Prenzlauer Berg for 18 months. He was her boyfriend, a chef in the tapas bar who hailed from Barcelona. After thinking I'd spend a quiet evening with my new book, I instead ended up talking, eating and drinking with this cute multicultural couple, and juggling basic vocabulary in three foreign languages - something that got a little more difficult after the Spanish anise liqueur and the gin.
On returning home I found my flatmate and the other two members of her group'd layout team still hard at work. It was nearly one in the morning. They left shortly after, and I went to bed about 1:30 with strict instructions to my flatmate not to work for too much longer (made a promise to myself to drag her form her laptop if she was still there at 2am, but unfortunately fell asleep before I could make good on it).
This morning has been the final push. After a hellish bus journey, we got coffee and pastries to power us through the final few touches. Now, the guides are finished. We all have that slightly lost look of people who've lost a purpose that has occupied their every waking moment for some considerable amount of time.
Plans for the final night are: a return trip to the tapas bar with the flatmate; an ice-hockey match at the O2 World stadium; and a final celebratory drink. Debating going out clubbing one last time, but considering the amount of effort that will be required tomorrow to pack and tidy the apartment, sleeping until the afternoon and trying to continue with a raging hangover is probably not the best idea.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The day of edits

This afternoon has been a mad blur of articles and Google Drive. We lost half our editing staff on a trip to Poland, so the remaining two of us have been furiously picking up the slack to save our layout team from a hellishly full day tomorrow. Think I may be getting another cold (quite possibly gained from the boyfriend over the weekend), but we're hoping it doesn't grow into anything too nasty.
Had our final German lesson today. Our teacher organised a few games from those of us who made it, and was incredibly touched by the card we'd all signed for her. As a teacher she has been fantastic; her ability to cram so much vocabulary and grammar into four weeks of lessons is almost certainly unrivalled. And teaching languages isn't even her first job.
A group of us went for lunch with our one of our project leaders. He wasn't expecting quite so many of us to accompany him, but he took it in good humour and shepherded us all to our destination - the Nordic Embassy. They open their cafe to the public at lunch times, so the common folk have the opportunity to mix with diplomats over baked fish and parsley potatoes.

Afterwards we were given a tour around the KaDeWe (a large high-end department store in Schöneberg). An entire floor is devoted to food and drink of all kinds: meat counters selling products from around Germany, arranged by district; a selection of European cheeses; an array of fruits and vegetables, both local and exotic; a temperature-controlled bullet-proof glass room full of rare vintage wines; row upon row of beautifully crafted truffles; and two counters lined with irresistible cakes. We all indulged in a sweet treat, including our project leader.
Then ensued three grinding hours in the office. On the way home I had to stop at an automatic photo booth and take a picture for my contributor profile in the guide. Little did I know it was going to start snapping as soon as I'd put in my 2€; consequently, two of the four photographs are of me arranging my hair/scarf/face. At least two are (hopefully) useable.
Working late in St Oberholz again. Shouldn't really be writing this at all; there are several section introductions to edit before the day is done. I think I'll be able to go for a full-blown American breakfast tomorrow morning with a few others with a relatively clear conscience; today, I was one of a two-man team completing the work of four. That, if nothing else, warrants a big stack of pancakes.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Time to hit the panic button

Today has had essentially no redeeming features: the weather has been awful (windy, rainy, cold and grey with no let-up); our review session this afternoon descended into a four-way shouting match (of which, I'll concede, I was one voice) and was henceforth tenser than a Hitchcock thriller; and we are a relatively far cry from where we ought to be by now in the editing process. As I had the smallest sections to edit (not exactly by choice), I am up to date and have been desperately offering help to others. It will come together in the end, but the next 48 hours are going to be a stressful bout of frantic messaging, angry requests, and furious work in front of a computer for all of us.
Work is far less fun when you don't have a boyfriend to offer constructive advice/listen to your whining at the end of the day.
Yesterday was a better day. After German class, about eight of us went to Mustafa's Gemüse Kebaps kiosk next to Mehringdamm U-Bahn. Since they're reputed to be the best kebabs in Berlin - a city full of good Turkish food - we went with high expectations. We'd timed it to avoid one of Mustafa's many busy periods; waiting times of up to ninety minutes are not uncommon. However, our queue was tiny and we were served in fifteen minutes. Although the kebabs were delicious, filled with meat, roasted vegetables, salad and homemade sauce and sprinkled with feta cheese, I'm not sure I would have been willing to wait an hour and a half for it.
After a busy afternoon of work, my housemate decided that we deserved a sweet after-dinner treat. We headed out to a waffle place that Google had reliably informed me opened until late. This wasn't the impression we got from the staff member who was in the process of closing up at 7:30. We retreated back toward Rosenthaler Platz and stopped in at Café Fleury, a charming little French café with retro 60s furniture and extremely good cake and tarts.
Debated going for a naan pizza for dinner tonight, but since I a) am running out of money and b) could probably do with eating a little more sensibly, I may have dinner at home tonight. When I was cold and soaked waiting for a bus earlier this afternoon, the thought of going for waffles was extremely tempting; however, I have held my nerve and resisted as it was a trip my housemate and I wanted to make together. Despite my addiction to all things sweet and doughy, I am better than petty deception.
This time, at least.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Doing the "tourist" thing

This weekend has been a welcome respite before the madness which will doubtless ensue tomorrow. With five days to go, there is still no discernible end in sight - not panicking yet, but I'm sure it won't be long before the tearing out of the hair starts.
The boyfriend arrived at Schönefeld on Friday night. I was almost late to meet him; after having a much longer walk from the U-Bahn to our hotel than anticipated, then plagued by waits for trains, my frenzied run from the airport S-Bahn platform to the arrivals gate was less than dignified.
After a late dinner we headed straight for the hotel, deciding we'd both had long enough days to justify an early night (the fact that I'd gone to bed at 6am that morning and only slept for five hours had caught up with me). Saturday was occupied by a walk up Unter den Linden, a tour around the stunning Reichstag dome (a modern masterpiece of British design), and a quick beer at St Oberholz so I could catch up on some work. Went for dinner at a Block Haus (German chain of steak houses) near Alexanderplatz on a recommendation from my dad. At 7:30 on a Saturday night the place was packed, but despite delayed service the food and drinks were both fantastic.
We met up with some friends from the project and made our way together to Clërchin's Ballhaus, a club that more resembles a busy wedding reception than the typical smoke-filled, techno-thumping nighttime venues that dominate Berlin. It occupies the ground floor of a large Victorian building; a band were playing classic covers and the dance floor was full of optimistic shape-throwers. We stayed until about 3:30; the band had bowed out a couple of hours before and been replaced with a stereo, and we'd had enough drinks to be pleasantly merry on the walk back.
We stayed in the Park Inn on Alexanderplatz, a treat for the boyfriend since Friday night's accommodation was for a review. Our "room with a view" on the 18th floor looked out toward the TV Tower and Museum Island - otherworldly after so long in an apartment block in Lichtenberg. The fantastic view was quite something to behold in the darkness of early morning, and when we finally stirred at about 10:30 this morning.
Went out for brunch at a café called Anna Blume in Prenzlauer Berg; the fresh orange juice, coffee and crêpes were most definitely needed by that point. Afterwards we killed time first at the apartment, then at St Oberholz, before we had to head to the airport. Saying goodbye was quite tough (not sure the hangover-induced over-emotionality helped), but it is only a week before we'll see each other again.
The boyfriend said he enjoyed having a tour guide for the weekend (took it as a compliment, since my geographical knowledge of the city is far from perfect). It was nice to take a couple of days out to be a tourist; being in a foreign country for a month for work doesn't give you much of a chance to behave like one. From the start you have to pretty much fend for yourself, so it was a refreshing change to stay in a hotel, do some sightseeing and eat out guiltlessly.
Now my partner-in-tourism has left, work must commence again at a much accelerated rate.Well, it will commence tomorrow morning. Tonight has been about this blog and a beer, and when I get home it will be about tea, biscuits and the German elections.

Friday, 20 September 2013

A multicultural night out

Last night was the second of the major nights out in beautiful Berlin. One of the project leaders, another girl on the project and me went to the Stadtsoper in Charlottenburg and saw a performance of "Un ballo in maschera" by Verdi. The show was sold out and packed with yuppies and American tourists, but the all-star cast gave a spectacular performance. After we went for dinner at a vegetarian Indian restaurant close by (one of the project leader's favourite haunts) and chatted about previous years he had worked on the project, job opportunities and alcohol-induced accidents. At about quarter to midnight me and my friend got on the U-Bahn - she was headed for home, and I was headed for Kreuzberg.
The originally large group who had said they would accompany me on my two-club-review night had dwindled to four: two other girls from the project (die-hards from last weekend's KaterHolzig outing) and two young Turkish men (neighbours of one of the girls in their apartment block). The guys' English was incredibly basic; after a few beers the language barrier had been raised further, but we all struggled on regardless.
Our first search was for Club de Visionaere, an open-air bar by the river. After an unsuccessful hunt, a pit-stop on a giant bench on the riverfront and a chat with some guys from England who had been bounced from a club up the road, we decided to move on to the next planned location: Chalet.
Having heard about this club from friends who've been out in Berlin, I was really excited to see what all the fuss was about. The building itself is three stories of utilitarian washed-out-red brick, with a cobbled patio at the back and thumping techno inside. Since the others had beers to finish before they could go in, I went on ahead, aware of how dreadfully embarrassing it would be if I didn't get in. I positioned myself in the thankfully short queue behind a group of German teenagers, apparently having an altercation with the bouncers. After I'd been standing for a couple of minutes looking bored, one of the bouncers looked over at me and asked in German if I was alone. I replied that I was, and he beckoned me inside. Result.
Chalet was everything I'd hoped it would be. I took advantage of being on my own for a few minutes to get a drink and have a look around. The others luckily got in too, so I didn't have to wander round looking awkward and lonely all night.
The multicultural experiences of the night included: a chat with a couple of gay German men on the patio; a conversation with a young German guy outside the toilets; meeting a girl and a guy from London, in Berlin for the weekend to party; encountering a large group of Australians in the garden; and being propositioned by a Frenchman. We were dancing enthusiastically to techno until around 5am, then decided to head home. Having crawled into bed at 6, I was not up at 8 to get ready for German class. It fell by the wayside this morning - but I was technically working last night.
In St Oberholz after a much-needed shower and a healthy lunch of open Gouda and tomato sandwiches. Have actually managed to be pretty productive despite the hangover. Oh, and the anticipation for the boyfriend's arrival this evening. I really can't wait to see him and show him this wonderful city; a weekend just isn't going to be enough for everything I want him to see.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

All work and (almost) no play

Today the Wifi search has brought me and a friend to Café CK in Prenzlauer Berg (my favourite of Berlin's more central districts). I have already had my meagre knowledge of coffee beans and roasts insulted, but other than a little staff snobbery this quiet gourmet coffee shop makes a pleasant change from the endless crowds in St Oberholz. We've just spent (quite) a while in St George's English bookshop just down the road. Resisted the temptation to buy any more books because of the implications for the weight of my suitcase on the flight home.
Quite a lot has occurred since the last post. One of my flatmates and me visited the Pergamonmuseum and the Alte Nationalgalerie on Sunday, giving our weekend a serious cultural injection. After a quick but hearty lunch in Fraulein Burger - an all-organic, all-homemade, all-delicious burger bar - we spent four hours from late afternoon into the evening working in St Oberholz, watching the nighttime crowd filter in around us.
By Monday morning my cold had well and truly settled in. Used an embarrassing amount of loo roll as no one seems to sell single packets of tissues in Berlin and I didn't want to commit to buying 12 packets in the supermarket. Had my first ever doner kebab for lunch from a Turkish place around the corner from the offices - an incredibly tasty way to feed a cold. Decided to skip the afternoon trip to Mercedes World (the planned visit to the Garten der Welt couldn't go ahead because of the drizzly weather) and went for a guided tour of the Berliner Philharmonie instead. Architecturally the building is a masterpiece; every curvature of its concert hall was designed to create the best possible acoustic experience, from the tilted walls to the wooden sails hanging from the ceiling. It's most definitely one of my favourite buildings in the city.
After the tour I retreated back to St Oberholz and hid myself upstairs with a chai latte (newly discovered hot drink of choice). That evening, as none of us in the flat had made plans to go out, we stayed in with plenty of cheese, salami, bread, salad and Rittersport and pigged out in front of some German-dubbed American television. Blissful.
Yesterday involved a very long day in the office. When we finally did leave at nearly 5:30, it was to head out to Kreuzberg to find a German restaurant - dubbed by Marcus as "touristy" - called Max und Moritz's. The six of us who had headed out there enjoyed some good wine and very traditional, flavoursome German food. Overall immeasurably more successful than our previous attempt to find a German restaurant in Kreuzberg (see the "Mutti" incident from 6 September).
This morning was our final writing workshop; even though we've only had three in total, it feels like the end is already approaching. There's still so much to do before the project is finished - writing the final reviews, editing and finalising the layout designs to name but a few tasks - but the flights home are drawing close worryingly fast. Having been here two and a half weeks I now appreciate that one month in this glorious city is simply not enough. When I leave next Saturday, although I will have done so much in my time here, I will leave behind so many places I wanted to explore, so many things I wanted to try. It's safe to assume that Berlin will draw me back before long.