Reflections on a Year Past

I started 2016 with so much energy and the impulsiveness I’ve always had. As a response, Berlin gave us a ball of light in an entirely overcast sky for a sunrise on January 1.

It was at the beginning of 2016 that I finally made the change I was always planning on but was always afraid to do. It was painful then, but the pain stayed there. I was free. It was the year that proved what I always say: I’m too many people at once, sometimes I don’t know who I am.

IMG_017211111.jpgI spent so much time, money, and energy traveling. There were times when I felt physically, emotionally, and mentally spent. I met all sorts of people, engaged in countless conversations that impacted me so much, and collected so many stories. I realised I can talk and that there are people who want to listen, and that the quieter you are, the more you can hear.

I worked on rediscovering what it meant to be ‘family’ –as Jonathan Safran Foer puts it, “One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what means to be family.” I spent my entire Christmas break traveling to meet family. It was a bit of a challenge that they were scattered all over the place.

I learned to do weekend breaks– having spent the previous year with barely any weekend free from work. I traveled to places I’d never heard of before, and learned to make do with whatever was at hand.

I woke one February morning to the news of the Brussels Bombings. I breakfasted in silence with the strangest feeling. By some stroke of fate, my extremely delayed flight left the airport 6 hours before that attack.

April 1 World Pillow Fight Day
World Pillow Fight Day in Berlin

In a fit of jealousy, stubbornness, and possessiveness, I started running again. Every initial step was a battle against the voices in my head, against memories of the darkest summer I spent. I signed up for my first half marathon: the Isle of Skye Half Marathon.

I met the dreaded ToiToi – Germany’s portable public toilets, enjoyed work and the diversity of the people I was with. When summer was in full heat, I had my first swim in a Berlin lake, did the Rostock Half Marathon, and enjoyed the outdoors and the endless events that made up Berlin’s summer spirit.

One Sunday I visited a Gurdwara for the first time and received insights on something I knew very little about. I learned that Sikhism is more tradition, a way of life, than religion.

 

I remembered my roots, realised how much two and a half years can change a person, and caught up on old relations. It was a pleasant surprise that although we all go through so many different experiences and we are constantly changing, some things are fundamentally the same.

I moved to a new city in a new country, made new friends, and lived a new life. I had my fair share of grief and tears, faced my selfishness and learned that I didn’t have to explain all my actions. I shuddered at the indifference I discovered– at how cold and cruel the human heart can be. There are people in your life who are worthy of an explanation– and among them, people who don’t listen. As the saying goes, there are people who can’t see the forest for the trees.

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Rolling with the times

It was the year I first smoked weed, shisha, drank a little too much a few times too many, yet it was the year I was fittest. I felt young. I regressed and did things I had missed out on in my strange childhood.

It was life on the fast lane that on the day I typed the words, it was true.

You know the girl you once thought you knew? Well, she’s not here anymore. 

 

 

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Latte Macchiato

I never liked the feel of foam on my lips,
And the minuscule air packets that went with the sips.
I always insisted coffee be black and bitter-
As the nights that dragged after all the evanescent glitter.

Sitting on an armchair alone in the dim room,
While everyone else chose to sit where the flowers bloom,
I fell as low as one could go,
Yet the darkness kept stretching endlessly below.

There had never been a hand to pull me up.
I only ever got sips of life in another cup.
My dark bitter drug – I’ve learned to mellow you down,
Learned to appreciate the gentleness in town.

Café Knorke is one of my favourite cafés in Berlin. Located in a quiet neighbourhood in Friedrichshain, time seems to stand still here. The wooden floors and East German furnishings certainly evoke nostalgia (or Ostalgie for some people). Wi-Fi is very fast and reliable and I almost always have the whole place to myself in the early afternoon. It has become a living room to me- very gemütlich. And as a bonus, you can practice your German with the owner.

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Café Knorke
Bötzowstraße 18,
10407 Berlin
http://www.cafe-knorke-bar.de/

Spargelzeit Alarm

 

If you rank the spring vegetables by how eagerly the Germans anticipate them, the asparagus or ‘Spargel‘ (pronounced shpar-gl) in German would occupy the top pedestal without contest. Spargel is so beloved by Germans that it is considered the Queen of the Vegetables.

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Every year, with the coming of spring comes the German newspaper reports on the first spargel shoots and forecasts when the first harvests will occur. Spargelzeit (asparagus season) begins sometime between mid- April or early May and ends in late June.

It’s easy to tell it’s Spargelzeit: Almost all restaurants and even takeaway places will offer an asparagus dish. There is hardly a menu board that won’t have ‘spargel’ written on it. Supermarkets and kiosks will start selling them at pretty reasonable prices.

It used to be that asparagus was grown only in the warmer areas of Germany and left to grow as it would. This meant a harvest season of early May to late June. Farmers looking to make more money, started covering the fields with black foil so the sun heats up the soil much quicker resulting in earlier harvests. Thus, these days you can find spargel already around Easter.

But what makes asparagus so special in Germany?

IMG_0903Asparagus is very popular in the Netherlands, Spain, France, Poland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Italy, and Switzerland, and is almost exclusively white; if not, it is specified by the local language term for “green asparagus”.

White asparagus is the result of a blanching technique applied when the shoots are growing. Soil is piled over young shoots as they grow, and tarps ensure that no sunlight reaches them. Without photosynthesis, the stalks remain white. The result is an asparagus that is less bitter, more tender and thicker than its green counterpart.

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Spargel Home Dinner. Can spring get any more German?

The classic way to eat spargel is boiled, with boiled potatoes, hollandaise, and meat. It becomes the ultimate German food when it’s prepared by your Bavarian flatmate who learned to perfect the art from his parents. Yes, spargel is a serious art in this part of the world. If the Italians have al dente for pasta, I’m guessing the Germans have something for a perfectly boiled spargel too.


Spargel 101:

  • to store fresh spargel stalks, wrap them with a clean cloth (‘einwickeln‘) and put them in the vegetable compartment of your fridge. Your spargel is guaranteed to stay fresh for a few days.
  • the head is the best part of an asparagus
  • Beelitz, a town in southwest of Berlin has a long history of growing spargel (about 150 years and counting). The sandy soil of the Brandenburg region makes it an ideal place for growing spargel. The town thrives so much on spargel that it celebrates an annual asparagus festival on the last weekend of May.
  • The spargel in Beelitz is shorter than in other regions, and since the head is the best part of the spargel, you get more taste for less. You’re welcome!

Enjoy the warm and longer days and eat spargel! Spring can’t get any more German.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sakura Campaign

Every year, sections of the path where the Berlin Wall once stood (Berliner Mauerweg) turn pink with the blossoms of the cherry trees or sakura.

IMG_3980In 1990, the Japanese set up The Sakura Campaign and managed to come up with enough funds to donate around 9,000 cherry trees in celebration of German reunification. It has been almost 16 years since the first trees were planted by the Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam, and today little remains of the ugliness of the Cold War years.

There are hanami events in Berlin every spring but I managed to miss it again this year. Hanami is a traditional Japanese custom of gathering around for picnics to appreciate the transient beauty of cherry blossoms, and less popularly, plum blossoms. The blossoms usually last for just two weeks, so I was very glad that I managed to catch it mid-season. There are some trees that haven’t blossomed yet so I’m keeping my fingers crossed on seeing them again next week. Spring rolls in way too fast for my liking yet the temperatures take too long to warm up.

I visited the section of the Mauerweg just beside S-Bahnhof Bornholmer Straße. It’s a small stretch with just about 200 trees but it’s one of the popular ones out there.

 

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Chilling by the Cherry Trees: the Japanese believe sakura bring people inner peace and serenity

The Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development and Environment has a detailed list of the trees planted by The Sakura Campaign which you can find here. You can also check out the last page of The Sakura Campaign flyer for a map of where the cherry trees are located.

Whether you’re going alone or with company, Happy Hanami!

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The Box

There is a big sharing community in Berlin, evident in all the facebook groups around.

My favorite has always been Free Your Stuff Berlin – which I joined back in January 2015. I got a lucky clover, a corkboard, and some German novels out of it, but it’s been ages since I’ve been active on it.

Yesterday, Gaurav sent me a photo of a box he was going to pick up, and naïve as I am, I ended up agreeing to slavery and went along with him.

It was a beautiful bright spring day with only the gentlest breeze every now and then. I completely missed spring last year (a.k.a. The Year of Two Autumns), and this year was my first chance to fully experience spring. I’ve been watching the trees closely, and I am still at awe at the speed the leaves are sprouting. They just started growing out yesterday, today it already feels like it will be completely out tomorrow.

It was quite a lovely neighbourhood, a little stretch from U-Bahnhof Moritzplatz, but nice and quiet and dotted with park patches all around. We came back home with a box of books in four languages: English, German, French, and Spanish.

The best part of the day was finding out that I finally got my hands on one of Kerri Smith’s books to wreck – for free! And there is no one to challenge its being mine because Gaurav doesn’t speak German.

 

 

 

 

The Winter Mess: An Album

It’s spring in Berlin now.

I sincerely hope so.

Time to get busy and shed off those extra winter pounds. Time to clean the closet. Time to make use of all the winter pictures that have been sitting dormant and useless in my drive. I am not a winter person – two winters have made that clear. I like the snow, but winter in Berlin is 91 % the greyness and dullness and 9% the snow-blanketed winter wonderland. So here’s the 9% good part of winter.

 

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Let’s pretend those are Salzstange
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Gloveless and playing with snow in below zero temp: bad idea I can tell you

Here’s a list of my favourite places in Berlin in winter (when there is snow):

  • Drachenberg
  • Neuer See at Tiergarten (It’s an all-season favourite.)
  • Schlosspark Charlottenburg (quiet and regal)
  • Volkspark PBerg (because it’s five minutes away)

I don’t go out much in winter because it’s too cold, it’s too damn cold, it’s just too goddamn cold. After New Year’s Eve, I just start the depressingly long countdown to warmer days and greenery.