Category Archives: Germany

The Eternal Search for Delicious Brunch

I am eternally searching for the best restaurants in Berlin. The latest, greatest, most delicious, most undiscovered place where I can sink my teeth into something divine. Berlin happens to be a happening brunch town, if only you can find the right places to go. Sundays offer up all-you-can-eat buffets to dine to your heart’s content, but where is it worthwhile spending such a luxurious period of your life? There are, of course, the staples (or at least my staples!):

  • Anna Blume for their beautiful brunch tower and over-sized tea mugs
  • Pasternak for their creative and unique buffet filled with Russian goodies (many of which remind me of my grandmother’s cooking) and mouth watering desserts
  • Frida Kahlo which tends to disappoint during all other mealtimes, but they seem to have gotten the Sunday brunch buffet filled with eggs, rice, beans, chicken, pancakes, etc right!
  • Barcomi’s which has your standard bagels affair with delicious dessert options.
  • Nalu Diner for a typical American breakfast complete with diner pancakes, bacon, eggs how you want them, and killer hash browns.

But say you want to take a step away from the norm…where would you go? Inputs welcome.

 

Friends Get Married

I’ve hit that age when everyone you know starts getting married. Some even start having (gasp!) babies! In the last year alone I’ve been to weddings in Serbia, the U.S., Germany, and Paraguay (oh, and there was that time I met my BFF’s baby in the Bahamas.) It’s expensive to keep up with so many friends and their love lives, but it’s also so much fun!

Every country has their traditions – some of them seem weird (actually, no, they ARE weird, but let’s not debate semantics here) but they are all equally as crucial for the couple getting married and for the guests in attendance. Here is a list of some of the things I found to be the strangest, or most unique, in the “foreign weddings” I attended this year:

SERBIA

Vladi and Ive

Vladi and Iva

  • The first wedding is in a church (pretty standard) and not all wedding guests are invited to attend – this is usually a small, intimate ceremony that lasts about half an hour – the couple must accept congratulations and smile and pose with every guest who came to the church for the photographer
  • When you walk outside the church, there are local gypsy brass bands that come up to the wedding party and play music – their music becomes more insistent the longer they play, often putting the horn of the instrument directly in your ear and playing at full volume until you give them some cash (at this particular wedding the best man also brought the gypsy band to the party, much to the delight of all the guests) – keep in mind, these guys can pull in thousands of dollars a night for a big wedding
  • When you arrive to the reception, the couple once again stands outside and poses with every. single. guest. (in this case about 350 people) Only after every guest had their photo op does the party begin.
  • Lots and lots of different cakes.
  • Oh, and the photographers have printers on hand and walk around the party distributing photos that guests can buy on the spot (this is not so much weird as awesome!)
Brass Band

Gypsy Brass Band

GERMANY

(This was a mixed wedding: half East German half Northern England, i.e. Geordie)

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Ali and Neil

  • Straight from leaving the church the friends of the bride and groom hold up an old bedsheet which has a giant heart drawn in the middle, and the name of the bride and groom inside of that. The bride and groom are each given a pair of tiny scissors and they must work together to cut the heart shape out. Once complete, the groom then carries the bride through the opening they’ve created in the sheet.374396_10152077898159278_1848781778_n
  • German tradition is that as the first true test of marriage, the newly wedded couple must work together as a team to saw apart a foot in diameter log using an old school, massive saw. The first marital row, if you will, ensues.995734_10152077899664278_1485770867_n
  • This might just be East German, not totally sure, but the bride and groom are each given two giant loaves of bread – they must create a pair of shoes from this bread. The first one to walk across the stage (or room) in their new shoes wins!
  • Each guest is given a balloon filled with helium and a postcard pre-addressed to the bride and groom. Each guest writes a message to the couple and ties the postcard to the balloon. Everyone releases the balloons at the same time (great photo op!) Once the balloon finally lands (wherever that may be) it’s up to any random stranger passing by who finds it to mail it back to the couple. (Strangely, our postcard made it back to Ali and Neil from the Czech Republic!)

PARAGUAY

(This was a mixed wedding half Paraguayan half Colombian – so the traditions may be a bit mixed up – at least in my mind)

Nati and Luis

Nati and Luis

  • There is a traditional Paraguayan dance at the beginning of the reception and every guest must dance for a few minutes with the bride and groom (men with the bride, women with the groom) and smile for a photo op!
  • Ligas – this took me a while to understand! The bride has about 20 garters under her dress (one garter for each single woman at the wedding). One garter is special (i.e. a different color) and the rest are traditional white. The bride sits opposite the single women (one at a time) and they each lift their right leg and touch the souls of the shoes. The groom then takes one garter from the bride’s leg and must slide it across their legs and feet and up the thigh of the single lady. His “last chance to touch another woman” if you will! The woman who gets the colorful garter is the next to marry. Ligas in Paraguay
  • Masks/hats/whistles/glow sticks/silly string, etc – Boxes of costume-like hats and whistles, (see list above) are distributed to guests to liven things up. I have to admit, this makes the party a hell of a lot more fun!
  • Whiskey – easy as that, the drink of choice for the night is whiskey, the nicer the better
  • For the Colombian tradition that stood out most, aside from sharing a bottle of whatever they were passing around, is some dance where a woman lies on the floor (or I suppose it could also be a man?) and all the party guests dance feverishly over her. (See example of Mapale here.)

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As I continue to grow my international network of friends, I will continue to observe the oddities of culture, which are never more openly displayed than in time-honored traditions such as weddings!

Motivation that Wanes in Winter Grays

Inspiration comes and goes and two things affect it more than anything for me, at least at the moment. 1) My travel/work schedule and 2) the weather. What are the things affected by my lack of inspiration? Well this list can go on and on – from simply styling my hair or putting careful thought into my outfit for the day, to getting enough motivation to hit the gym a few times a week (or at least more than once a week!) to having the motivation and enthusiasm I always want to feel when writing my blog.

Lately I’ve been on the go quite a bit. I was traveling for work for 3 weeks between February and March and came back only to leave again for a long weekend in Stockholm. I’m back in Berlin, but not for long, as a number of upcoming trips will keep pulling me away time and again. And it has to be said that the weather in Berlin this winter has been nothing short of brutal. Endless months of gray skies take their toll on a person’s mind and energy. It’s hard to keep motivation when the weather never clears and every morning is as gray as every evening.

Endless Gray

Is there light at the end of the gray?

So where do I get hit the most? With my ability to get off my butt and get to the gym for that “I feel great!” feeling. It simply does not come when everytime I look out the window and think, “I’d rather be curled up on the couch under a cozy blanket with a book”.  Add a bit of travel messing up your schedule to the mix and you’ve got yourself a pretty good excuse to not work out and to stay away from the gym!

So today, as I sit at my desk debating if it’s time to leave the office, but secretly wanting to stay just a little bit longer to have a good enough excuse not to make it to the gym once again, (well I had to work late, it was impossible to find the time!) I know in my heart it’s time to get back.

While spring may not have come yet (my god, it’s already April! Give us a break on the bleak, gray skies and chance of snow!) it is just around the corner and I, for one, want to be prepared!

Anyone have any good tips for how to keep up the motivation even when the weather’s getting you down? How to you fight through the laziness and weariness to keep fit?

Delicious Home Cooking

[Please be warned: Graphic Images of Meat to Follow]

I am lucky to have a live-in Chef in my home now. Well, I should say, the grandson of a chef who happens to love cooking. Either way, I’m lucky!

What does it mean to live with someone who loves to cook? No more “spaghetti is all I have time or energy to cook” days, no more sandwiches for dinner (when I’ve already had it for breakfast and lunch,) and no more picking at random things all evening hoping it adds up to a meal.

It’s not only him that gets the cooking bug, but having him here makes me want to cook more too. It is more inspiring to prepare food for two, and my adding-too-much-butter-to-everything-I-bake skills are vastly improving. (Sounds a bit like my previous post about perfecting the art of, well, anything! The more you do it, the better you get!)

So after seeing some delicious looking steak at the grocery store last week, and realizing we had fresh mushrooms and brussels sprouts left from the farmer’s market, Aleks and I put together a delicious steak dinner for two in about a half hour or less!

IMG_2193

Lightly salted, olive oiled, and peppered steaks set to sizzle alongside some lightly steaming brussels

Sautéing the mushrooms...in butter. Mmmm!

Sautéing the mushrooms…in butter. Mmmm!

Perfectly browned brussels with a touch of butter

Perfectly browned brussels with a touch of butter

Nothing like some good grill marks!

Nothing like some good grill marks!

Voila! Dinner is served!
Voila! Dinner is served!

 

Playing with Color and Layering

So I had another lesson today, my second photography/photoshop lesson. I have to say I am still such a beginner! I still need to find my groove and style when it comes to snapping, and never realized I actually have to learn how to stop thinking like a tourist when taking a shot, and go for the photo that tells a story, (rather than just illustrating it before your eyes.)

So I give you another taste of Amanda magic! This week’s lesson was about taking 3 shots consecutively without moving the lens, all with slightly different exposures. You can pull all the images together within photoshop and it gives the image a sort of surreal look – something that cannot be achieved with one shot alone.

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Snow capped tombstone markers at a graveyard in Kreuzberg, though supposedly no one lays beneath them

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Busy city corner in Kreuzberg with a flourescent yellow building

The Customer is Always…Wrong!

If there is one thing you learn quickly living in Germany, it’s that customer service is not their forte. While you may be expecting a happy, smiling waiter to greet you with a pitcher of cold water, you will really recieve begrudging glares if you so much as dare to ask for “Leitungswasser” i.e. tap water. And Germans won’t be afraid to let you know how they feel about your request!

This may have a lot to do with the fact that this society is not based on earning tips, or customer loyalty, but they take pride in their product and assume if anything is not “right” about, it really must be something wrong with YOU. And they won’t hesitate to let you know, even if it costs them a steady contribution of approximately 3 EUR a day, (that’s almost 800 EUR a year, people!)

A perfect example of this is something that happened to me earlier today. Well, let me give you a bit of the back story first. I work on a busy government street in Central Berlin – a.k.a. Mitte. There are tons of cafes and restaurants nearby, but literally in the downstairs portion of our building there is “The Espresso Bar”. I stop in most mornings for an Obstsalat mit Joghurt, (Fruit salad with Yogurt,) on my way to work. This is usually quite a delicious treat filled with greek yogurt, sweet granola, and deliciously ripe mangoes and kiwi, among other seasonal favorites, (in Germany you very often won’t find someone serving a fruit or vegetable out of season – since that would mean they had to import from somewhere far far away, which is not eco-friendly!)

So on this particular day, actually two days in a row, the fruit was underripe and sour. I tried to eat it, but every bite made me cringe and I finally decided it was ridiculous to force myself to eat something that didn’t taste good. Since I’m a regular customer, I thought it would be worthwhile to let the owner of the cafe know that the fruit was particularly sour, in case she wasn’t already aware.

I arrived at the cafe and explained to the woman working there (not the owner) that the fruit was really too sour to eat, and I thought they should know. She offered me another and I told her that was really fine, I didn’t want to try the same thing with another since it was just not good. So she gave me my money back, which I was surprised by, and I thanked her.

I went in a couple days later and again asked for the fruit salad, to which the same worker informed me that it would still be sour and I might like to choose something else. I thanked her for her honesty and picked  a sandwich instead.

This brings us to today. I stopped in this morning for a croissant on my way to a meeting, (knowledgeably avoiding the fruit salad,) and then again at lunch to get a quiche. Now you see just how loyal of a customer I really am! While they heated the quiche I went quickly next door to buy a sandwich for my colleague, and upon returning to the Espresso Bar was somewhat hostily accosted by the owner of the shop.

Mean-Woman

Given this was all taking place in German, and while I can hold basic conversations auf Deutsch I was not prepared to have an argument, or defend myself to someone in my 3rd language, must less the owner of a cafe I visit regularly. She told me that had she been at the cafe the day I brought back the fruit salad that she would not have given me my money back. She saw the container, and since I had eaten some of it it wasn’t fair that I would try to return it, (because I am clearly hurting for the 3.50 EUR it cost to buy and desperately wanted to eat for free, of course!) She said something about me being a regular customer and knowing better, (my language skills were a bit hazy during this part of her rant.) She then proceeded to lecture me that since I work for WWF I should know that in the wintertime fruit and vegetables are not always sweet and I couldn’t expect them to carry “un-sour” (i.e. ripe) fruit during these months, that kiwi would always be a bit sour and it didn’t justify returning the meal.

I was completely floored. I have never been spoken to that way by a virtual stranger, in a language I can just barely get by in, who is the owner of a cafe I visit multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day! I tried to explain, in my broken German, that the fruit was sour, I didn’t enjoy it, and I thought she should know it wasn’t good so she could be aware for future customers. I said that my intention was not to ask for my money back, but to let them be aware that the fruit they were selling was not ready and perhaps they should reconsider selling it.

She then proceeded to defend the quality of the fruit and her vendor and to explain that she couldn’t open up every container and try the fruit herself so they had to serve it as it was delivered, (good to know they don’t actually make the salads on the premise itself, but order it “fresh” every day.) I asked if she could maybe speak in English so I could better explain myself, but both her and the waitress did not speak my language and so my efforts were futile.

Since I had already ordered my quiche and was waiting to pay when she began her tirade, I debated just walking out the door, or paying up and leaving. Without so much as an apology or kind word, I don’t know – something as simple as, “I understand you weren’t happy with the fruit salad, just know that in the future I won’t accept food back,” I decided withhold my ‘danke schon’ while paying for the quiche, and walked out. Never to return again.

It just makes it a little bit clearer why so many restaurants in Berlin don’t last long. Customers have no reason to stay loyal to one place over another, their business is not any more appreciated if they always frequent the same place or try out a new place every day, and rather than taking criticism or feedback positively as a way to help improve their business, they would rather point the finger at you for being in the wrong. So long, farewell, Espresso Bar!

A Happy Ending in 2012

To say 2012 has been a crazy year would be an understatement. The amount of eye-opening and life-changing experiences I’ve had over the year have been nothing short of a blessing, both the good and the bad, and a true example of character development and personal growth.

From start to finish – from ending a relationship to rekindling a great love, from working my butt off to lobby for a big project and actually succeeding, from flying home to be with family in difficult times, to traveling throughout Europe, Asia, and South America, it has been a whirlwind I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Now that the year is quickly coming to a close, I can actually stop to appreciate all the difficulties and stresses I’ve faced, and be grateful for the love and support I’ve never ceased to feel from my wonderful family and friends. I can also say how proud I am of myself for sticking it out, whatever “it” may have been for the given time, to stand where I do today – feeling stronger and braver than before.

And I am grateful for all the happy moments and all of the new friendships I’ve made along the way. And for the friends that stayed close no matter where in the world I was – for the greatest friends I could ever ask for spanning the globe from Paraguay to the US to the Bahamas to Germany to Singapore.

And to top it off, I am grateful to realize that that great love is the forever kind and I will get to spend the rest of my life next to a man who is as kind as he is intelligent and as loving as he is fearless, and who’s passion for exploring is as fierce as my own.

2012 may have had its challenges, and though it may have felt like I lived a lifetime in just 12 months, it has a very happy ending after all.

Me and My Fiancé!

Me and My Fiancé!