I arrived in Berlin along with the first snow of the season. It's bloody cold, but everything is covered in a thin layer of white which somehow makes the cold a little friendlier...well, that and Gluehwein (but more on that later).
After a short layover in the Frankfurt airport, I boarded my flight for Berlin. I honestly don't remember much of the flight because as soon as I found my seat, sleep finally found me and I was out like a light until the landing gear came down. What I do remember about Frankfurt was the INCREDIBLE spread of fresh sandwiches, fruits, coffees, and pastries at one of the small shops in the airport. You know you're in Europe when... I literally smiled to myself at that point. It's good to be back. Food here is like art. They say you eat with your eyes before your stomach and Europeans are the best artists in the world. None of this pre-packaged stuff that we have at every Starbucks every two blocks (not that they don't have those too, because they do), that may or may not be soggy, stale or over salted when you take it out of the package - but bread so fresh you can smell it everywhere lined with meats and cheeses and bright red tomatoes and vibrant green lettuce. It's JUST a sandwich...but then again, it doesn't even begin to compare to JUST a sandwich. Anyway...I digress. I was still full of plane food, so I didn't buy anything to eat, just a bottle of water, and I was on my way.
The Scientist picked me up from the airport and after buying a City Pass for Berlin & Potsdam, we jumped on a bus and then a train and arrived at his apartment about 45 minutes later. Of considerable note - he lives on the fifth floor of a five-floor WALK UP building. Who needs a stairmaster? I may have started to perfect my running hams, but let me tell you - stairs are a whole different beast and by the end of a full day walking around I will NOT be looking forward to that task. I was pretty exhausted, but I wanted to stick to my plan of getting on schedule in one day, so after a quick shower and a change of clothes, we headed out for lunch at a lovely little Spanish restaurant down the street from his place. I had a delicious pasta with grilled chicken and mushrooms in this divine creamy sauce - not as heavy as alfredo, almost like a stew. YUM! After lunch I thought we would just end up going back to his house so I could take a nap, but a step outside into the cold air woke me up again and we decided to just start walking and see how long I could make it. He said there was a Christmas Market very close to his house so we ventured down a couple of different streets and looked at all the vendors.
Next up was KaDeWe (short for Kaufhaus des Westens). This was on my "must see" list, so since I wasn't begging for bed yet, we went in:
Inside the front doors was the prettiest Christmas display I have ever seen (and I live in Chicago with the Marshall Fields displays!). This high-end department store is a lot like Macy's or Marshall Fields, but at the very top in that glassed in section is a market unlike anything I have ever seen. Here are a couple of shots - I'm going to try to go back to take more. They have meats and cheeses and chocolates and mustards and breads and dried goods - anything and everything you could possibly imagine in the most beautiful, eye-catching arrangements. We didn't buy anything today, but we plan to go back to eat at the Marche-style restaurant up top.
After a quick trip to the toy department (where we found a Santa and Woody from Toy Story made in Lego) it was time to go. But first - we had to get pictures with the life-sized Steiff bear.
Bears are a big deal in Berlin. They're actually the symbol of the city, and so you find them everywhere (kind of like Chicago has cows everywhere). Here are a few that we found around town:
I was still doing ok (surprisingly) after KaDeWe so we walked a bit further and came upon another Christmas Market surrounding the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church. This is a beautiful old church that was bombed heavily in WWII and the ruins were left intact as a reminder of the horrors of war while a new, modern church was built around it. Here you can see the old church (with scaffolding all around it - I think they're trying to do some upkeep on it) and the two pieces of the new church - the tall tower and the low hexagonal building that looks a bit like a bunker.
Inside the ruins of the old church is now a museum that shows the building before and after and preserves a small part of what was left of the gorgeous interior.
The new church is pretty outstanding itself with thousands of stained glass windows and a huge pipe organ.
Since we were there anyway - we walked around the Christmas Market for a bit - smelling the smells and seeing the sights. SO PRETTY when all the lights come on and the sun starts to go down (it's completely dark by 4:30pm here).
I finally was in pretty desperate need of a nap at this point, so we stopped by a grocery store to pick up some items for breakfast and headed back to the apartment (and the 10 flights of stairs - 2 per floor) for a nap. 2 hours later - a little more rested and refreshed, we headed out for dinner and a walk around Mitte - a neighbourhood in East Berlin. Definitely different from the West, I really like East Berlin (from the little I saw of it in the dark). It has a lot of character and the buildings are very different from the buildings in the West. It also has a huge punk culture which was evident when I stumbled upon the Ramones Museum! There is also this really awesome gutted out building that is awash in graffiti and other art that houses a punk club, an art studio, a music performance hall, a couple of sub-culture restaurants and an open air market for all kinds of really interesting things. I want to go back in the daylight. This is the kind of place where street people still burn papers and other items in large barrels, etc. so I didn't really want to venture in at night. But it looked really cool!
We ate dinner at a great German restaurant - I had flammkuchen, which is a dish from Alsace that is like a very, very thin pita bread almost that they serve with pizza-like toppings. I had mine with lean gyro meat, olives, onions and feta cheese. It was delicious. A stroll back to Hackescher Markt to end the evening and my first introduction to this WONDERFUL Christmas drink called Gluehwein. Essentially a mulled wine, they have stands here everywhere for it and it's at all of the Christmas Markets in all kinds of flavours. Cherry is very popular. But in addition to the wine that's already in it, they like to add a shot of Amaretto. Oh dangerous! I'm obviously enjoying myself!
A VERY full first day, so we headed home to the stairs one more time and I crawled into bed. I awoke this morning right on time! Success! I managed to right my body-clock in one day - hurrah.
Today we had planned to visit Shloss Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Palace), built by Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III - who later crowned himself Friedrich I "King in Prussia". It's a Baroque-style palace and reminded me a lot of Versailles, though on a much smaller scale. It was originally built to be a summer house, but then was extended a number of times by a number of different generations, so the tour was really cool because we got to see rooms from when it was first built in the 1700s all the way to the remodeling that was done after a section of the palace was destroyed during the war.
They didn't let us take any pictures inside, but that's ok. I almost enjoy things more when I'm not seeing the world through my camera. We took in the whole palace on both floors and then walked the new wing as well that was added on in the 1900s. All I can say is - if you ever get a chance to visit a Baroque palace - do it. The opulence is unbelievable. This one is best known for the Porcelain Room - Sophie loved collecting porcelain, mostly from China and Japan and there is one room that is wall to wall, floor to ceiling porcelain from her collection. Over 1800 pieces adorn the walls, all laid out in order of size, type, colour, etc. And that's only the beginning. Her collection spans the rest of the palace and spills over into a museum next door. Incredible. The wealth and abundance of royalty. Phew!
Once outside, we walked over to the Christmas Market that was set up outside the palace. This one is by far the best one yet (and they say they only get better in Munich!). It was stunningly beautiful, all the little wood huts decorated in lights with white tops that look like snow. They smell like Christmas - candied nuts, mulled wine, fire and sausages of course. And lebkuchen (for Pookie!) which I of course had to try. It's German gingerbread and mine was dipped in chocolate. And each Gluehwein hut had collectible mugs. We stopped for two different varieties, but I think there were at least 7 or 8 at that one market. Dangerous business for a mug collector! We rested outside the Wilde Scheune for some venison stew and spatzle (potato pasta) with a cup of Gluehwein.
One thing is for sure - Germans are hearty and they love being outside. With temperatures this cold, Americans hunker down with their televisions. But not these folks. It seemed everyone in the city was out enjoying their Saturday at the markets and out of doors. Sidewalk cafes are still set-up and people still eat at them (with lap blankets provided by the restaurants). Beer gardens are still very much open - I totally thought they'd be closed by the end of November. Tomorrow I'll be wearing my tights under my jeans for sure - I couldn't feel my legs by the time we got home.
A couple last shots of the palace at night, lit by the lights from the Christmas Market:
A stroll up the Kurfurstendamm (Berlin's 5th Avenue or Magnificent Mile) ended our evening with more beautiful lights down a beautiful boulevard of trees. I was happy to see it at night since all the stores were lit up and it's not like I'm going to be shopping at any of those stores anyway! Santa and Frosty flanked the two ends of the strip :)
Tomorrow we're off to Sans Souci in Potsdam (another Baroque Palace) and to Shloss Cecilienhof where the Potsdam Conference was held in 1945 that lead to the split of Germany and the beginning of the Cold War. So much history!
Believe it or not, I'm under my calories today and was under yesterday and Thursday as well. I finally had time to input all of my food tonight and was quite pleased to find that out. I haven't felt at all deprived or hungry. I'm eating when I want to/feel like I need to eat, and I'm drinking alcohol responsibly and water often. So overall on the food front, I think I'm doing pretty well. Exercise is a no-brainer. We walked about 4-5miles today (and my legs are definitely feeling it) so I've got the calorie burn to counter-act the eating. Win-win? I think so! I've been taking my water bottle with me which is a good thing since they don't serve water at the dinner table and when you ask for it they literally bring over a small cup - not exactly what I'm used to consuming for sure. But at least I have a solution to that problem. Veggies are scarce at street fairs, but with dinners they're pretty regular, so I'm promising myself to maybe order a salad for lunch tomorrow since I didn't get very many in today. Good thing I bought bananas for breakfast!
Time for bed! Must rest my feet and my back before tomorrow's adventures in Potsdam. Gute nacht!