The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’

Learning key life skills in Germany

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on May 27, 2014

When navigating your way around a german kitchen, or indeed a german party, one of the most difficult things to find is a bottle opener. Surprising, is it not? When all your instincts, long nurtured clichés, and the physical evidence of empty Pfandflaschen (deposit bottles) piling up on every street corner/table/ledge tell you beer is indeed flowing. So a word of warning: when you, confused tourist in teutonic lands, ask for one, do not be surprised when someone hands you a lighter instead.

You see, a true German can open a beer bottle with just about anything, and not having a bottle opener leaves room in the kitchen drawer for other, more obscurely exotic kitchen essentials: your schnitzel hammer for example or this terrifying and dangerous cousin of the tin opener (you may actually need the schnitzel hammer to work it):

Having become used to this state of affairs, my policy has long been to find the nearest smoking german and ask them to open my beverages. If there are no smokers around, any german person will do the trick, the only condition being that there is in the vicinity an object with an edge. Not too difficult then. Do not judge me for taking the easy way out. Over the three and some years I have lived on this side of the Rhine, I have tried, usually ending up covering myself in beer and ridicule: at best I would manage to slightly bend one tiny bit of the beer cap and give up with a sore knuckle. Worst case scenario so far, I broke a lighter and dropped the bottle which smashed on a rock, spraying everyone with the foamy stuff. Maybe it is simply that my frenchness prevails when it comes to accessing alcoholic drinks. Certainly I may be rubbish at opening beers with an USB sitck, but I am very good at uncorking wine. It was even noticed by my colleagues when I was working in a posh-ish hotel in Kiel. Give me a wine bottle and a corkscrew and sit back and enjoy the show. I won’t need to lean on anything or squeeze the bottle between my thighs, no drop will be spilled, no loud popping noises and would Sir like to try a sip first?Scan0012

 

 

Maybe that was what my friend Jan picked up on last Sunday at the barbecue. Not that I did open any wine there – all screwtops there (BLASPHEMY), but there was a wine bottle lying around and that was what I was told to use, if I wanted to get to my beer. No I won’t open it for you, you need to do it yourself.

I failed miserably the first time around, but the second cap flew a metre or so away with a satisfying pop on my first try. I could have clapped, if I had not been holding a bottle of beer in my left hand and a bottle of wine in my right. Never mind, and hurray! I am now officially one step closer to being German, which considering the french results of the European elections, cannot be such a bad thing, surely.

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Posted in Germany, Life, Uncategorized, Wine | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Stasi, Surrealism and a random hypnotist: Lange Nacht der Museen

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on May 20, 2014

Saturday night was the “Lange Nacht der Museen”, the long night of museums, happening  apparently  in 33 european countries simultaneously. But as I learned today, it all started in Berlin, in 1997. You get a ticket for 18 euros and can get access to most museums in the city till 2am.

Whoever thought of opening museums all night long was a genius. I love museums, so how could I resist? Unlike people who grew up in towns, my school outings were more about nature and traditional craftmanship. Museums were something we visited as a family when we were on holiday abroad, something fun and enjoyable, full of man-made constructs and things that had nothing to do with everyday life. When you enter a museum, you enter a whole new world, with its own rules, where hopefully everything is thought out and serves a special informative purpose.

stasimuseum

The Stasi Museum – not particularly inviting but then again, should you be surprised?

In the real world, things are functional, and you don’t see them until you need them. Perfect examples of this are bins. And typography; you use them, walk past them all the time, put how often do you actually stop and think: now that is well thought out. Everything is supposed to be subdued, serving quietly its purpose without drawing attention to itself. Of course, nowadays there are so many things everywhere, objects have to be noisy and visible so people can notice them if they want them, but even when things cry out to us in vivid colours we just filter everything out which we don’t immediately need. A museum environment is the exact opposite. Things are put on pedestals and inside glass cases and call out for our attention. They were put on pedestals and inside glass cases, they must be important. And you go there to see things. I am never quite so aware as when I am in a museum. It’s a bit intense, a bit tiring, but it’s nice to be in a place where people don’t think you’re weird when you stare at every tiny detail.

First stop on my trip was the Stasi museum, just two U-Bahn stops away from my flat, on the outskirts of town. There’s nothing much else there. Lots of emptiness, old houses being pulled down, their ghost silhouette still hanging on walls, trees and piles of rubble everywhere. Of the great concrete complex that was the headquarters of the secret police in the GDR, only one building is now devoted to the museum. You walk all the way across a great blank courtyard, wondering if you’ve got it right – there was a sign at some point but you’re not sure anymore – and enter Haus N°1. And you step back in time. Seriously, they had to put in some fire doors, but apart from that, nothing has changed much since the seventies. Lots of brown, lots of drab, plastic telephones everywhere, five centimetre thick unmarked doors. It feels like a blend of Kafka, Bradbury and Orwell. Sounds like it too, when you listen to the tour guides: “So THIS entire building was devoted to hinder the social and professional progress of people who were deemed to be against the Party” –  “Everyone had to copy every word that was said, although everyone knew everything was scripted and they would get a printed copy after the meeting” – “No-one knew anything about anything going on outside their own work – or maybe their office, if they had responsibilites” – “There are rooms full of shredded, torn, mulched paperwork; when the wall came down they tried to destroy everything”.

Great museum. Lots of blunt information, unembellished by interactive whatnots: you are allowed to try and reassemble photocopies of torn documents if you fancy, but that’s it.  Good for school groups, if a little dry.

My next stop was the Museum für Kommunikation in the  town centre. It made sense when I organised my trip: after learning about the orwellian GDR, a special exhibit entitled “Out of control: living in a world under surveillance. Brilliant, I like logical connections. Continuity! Well… to a certain degree anyway. After the
straight up information provided in the unnerving quiet of the Stasi museum’s decrepit building with beige lacy curtains, it was strange arriving in the town centre, with its colourfully illuminated glass facades, cars rushing by, and in the midst of it all the museum, shining neon-blue, marble staircases and columns, a DJ and a hypnosis show vying for attention, games, gadgets, a robot hovering in the foyer, and people on sewing machines making personalised mobile phone pouches. There was a lot going on.

Aliceinwonderland rabbit

Down the rabbit hole – Dalí, of course.

The museum itself was… well, fun. There is no other word to describe it. It was obviously designed with a younger, holidaying audience in mind, with games and buttons to press, magnifying glasses and pretty displays. It is very attractive and colourful, and a good way of introduction to communication technologies – actually combining these two specific museums wasn’t necessarily a bad plan, but would have benefited from being swapped around: after the seriousness of Haus N°1, the Museum für Kommunikation seemed a little childish, the information it provided, somewhat incidental. And seriously: a hypnotist?

Finally, I went to see the new permanent Dalí exhibit near Potsdamer Platz. Well, what can I say: it’s Dalí.  “Come into my brain” say the posters: an enticing, if slightly scary prospect. And the exhibit doesn’t disappoint. It’s brilliant and overwhelming and terrifying all at once. N0ne of the artist’s biggest (scale-wise) works are there, but series upon series of lithographies, silk-screens, etchings and, woodcuts, with a couple of photo-collages thrown in. As well as finally seeing some of the classics “for real”, like the series of illustrations of Don Quichote, I really loved discovering his take on Alice in Wonderland, which makes complete sense by the way. Who better than Dalí to show giant smoking catterpillars, rabbit burrows, watches and decapitated card figures?

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A year and one month ago: Stumbled into a cappucino habit.

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on May 2, 2014

As I may have mentioned before, the deal with my Berlin adventure was: I had a starting budget of a couple of hundred euros and a month or so to find an income, an internship or both. So after I found a friendly cyber-café with printing facilities on my first day and haggled over a bike (and won the argument) on the next, on my third day in the German capital, I mounted my new steed with a wad of CVs in my bag and I pedalled and skidded around town stopping in every promising-looking restaurant and café I could find. Believe me, there are a few.

Now something you have to understand is that March in Berlin last year, was nothing like it was this time around. No green shoots sprouting out of the branches like caterpillars, ready to spread their leafy winds, no sunshine or short showers criss-crossed by rainbows. It was unforgivingly, freezing cold. Ice and grit everywhere to be seen, but mostly ice. Over cobbles. And don’t get me going on the cycle paths (their turn will come). Luckily there were hardly any other people on the street, but after a few slips, falls, and near misses, I could understand their decision to stay inside to hug their radiators.

IMGP0416And this is how, after a few hours, freezing cold, rather damp and bruised on my left side and not feeling my fingers and toes, I chanced upon Café Wunderlich. It looked so small and warm and red and inviting, I just had to go in. It doesn’t look much of a café really, people sometimes walk right past it without a glance, but it is definitely worth a visit. There is no showy theme, the main concept of the place is “good coffee”, as you can immediately see when you go in. The coffee machine sits, throned in splendour behind the bar, all shiny silvery knobs and dials and levers, gently clicking, whirring and puffing out coffee scented fumes. I walked dripping to the bar and as I was waiting for my espresso to be ready – I discovered that day that coffee can’t be rushed – I found myself telling Moritz I was French, in Berlin since three days previous,  studying,  looking for work, came from the countryside and had English relatives. He’s the kind of guy who opens people up.

Then the coffee came. Now you must understand that being French, my attitude to coffee had always been somewhat medicinal. The stuff I was used to was bitter medicine to cure a low regime. When an energy boost was required, I would go to a café or bistro, ask for a coffee, take a sip, wince, pour sugar and swallow the rest in one swift gulp. This time around, I prepared to do the same, built up my resolve, took the first sip, and felt all my muscles relax instantaneously.  It was loveliness in a small china container with a handle. The bitterness was there, it is coffee after all, but so sweet and smooth. It had the consistency of a molten dark chocolate truffle dissolving on the tongue, filling your entire mouth with flavour. I sipped it slowly and scraped the last drop from the bottom of the cup with my spoon – I still do it with every single cup.

That was my first visit. I am now a regular there, although none of my three successive flats in the past year have been located closer than 6km from the café. It is worth the trip though so every two or three days I cycle over for my caffeine fix, usually in cappuccino form. This is Moritz’s recommendation: in his café you won’t be served lukewarm coffee at the bottom with a layer of impenetrable frothed milk floating on top like a cloud of isolation foam. The two are blended in a creamy light frothiness, decorated with hearts and flowers and palm leaves and you can’t quite tell where the foam starts and where the coffee ends.Once you have tasted it you will forswear Starbucks forever.

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A year ago today: Getting to Berlin

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on March 24, 2014

p to b

Ok my Eiffel Tower looks more like that of Blackpool… but you get the gist.

It is a year today since I first set off on my Berlin venture, and to mark the occasion, I decided to get started on this long promised blow by blow account of what has happened since then (I also resigned from my job as a waitress – the 24th of March is a good day for a fresh start). So here goes.

I set off for Berlin on a premeditated whim. I had been mulling things over for a while and the absence of any culture-related internship in my 140-strong village seemed a good indication that I should be looking elsewhere. London kept sending me rejection emails and Berlin seemed appealingly alternative so I found a flatshare on the internet, booked a night-time carpooling to from Paris to the German  capital and hopped onto a train with as much luggage as I could carry. The deal was: I had two months to set myself up, find a job and an internship, or  I would have to go home.

The trip to Paris was more or less uneventful. The SNCF train was punctual apart from a smelly Yorkshire terrier in a basket which didn’t seem to be enjoying the trip. The carshare was allright too, at first. It was a big old Renault van, which meant a lot of leg room and luggage space. One by one, the other passengers arrived and started piling their stuff into the boot. Travelling me with me were five people and a dog. That worried me a little at first; having spent the previous 4 hours in the same cart as a barking vomiting hairy fiend had somewhat reduced my affection for the canine species. This apprehension was soon replaced by another however, as the driver started handing out blankets, two each. It’s quite an old vehicle, and it gets draughty, especially at night – he said. I remembered the weather forecast for that day: although spring had finally come to France and daffodils were popping up everywhere, the temperature in Berlin had been stuck at minus 10 Celcius for the past week or so. The next few hours promised to be interesting.

And indeed, after the first two hours of an elated “I’m-setting-off-on-an-adventure-hi-Im-Alice-where-are-you-from-what-do.you-study?” giddiness, I spent most of the trip looking down at the road rushing by through a gap between the door and the floor of  the van. The driver hadn’t lied, it was draughty. It didn’t seem to disturb my fellow passengers though, who slept throughout, only waking when we stopped for cigarette breaks on the way. The dog was very good too, and nowhere near as loud as the one on the train, or as the snoring of its master.

The journey lasted 12 long hours and we were dropped off in icy Tempelhof, which meant I had to travel all the way across town to meet my new and very intriguing flatmate (but he deserves a post all to himself)

Anyway. I survived a year in Berlin!

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Very late breakfast: unexpected comfort food for expats in Berlin

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on November 7, 2011

Should I really  apologize again for my unpredictable, more than patchy writing habits? I think not, time is scant enough as it is and my bed is beckoning dangerously so let’s get to the point! I spent the weekend in Berlin, and it was pretty good.

You might be aware -or not- that I have been in Deutschland this past month and a half and the fact is: since my arrival, I hadn’t once stepped outside Regensburg (lovely little university town – I’ll come back to it some other time). So when Sven and Paul suggested a trip up to the capital, I jumped out of reason’s range, into the back of the car and we sped along northwards on the motorway, leaving all homework, academic and administrative bothers behind. This weekend was NOT going to be museum orientated: we set out to be unreasonable and  enjoy youth while we still have it; party much, drink a reasonable amount (my mam might read this blog so I’l leave it to everyone’s imagination) and sleep very little.

So at some point around 2pm on Saturday as we were walking along in the parks around Kreuzberg drinking takeaway coffee and gently emerging from our stupor, we realised we were going to need breakfast. And we went to THIS place:

We had walked past that shop the night before on the way to a party and it looked cool, a nice sort of whacky modern vintage look with big chunky furniture and many lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, and of course classic display racks and glass shelves covered in carrot cakes and scones and muffins. As an official half-expat it was pretty obvious I would have to go there at some point.

I was a little anxious at first, and with good reason: my experiences of british food abroad have been very mixed. Soggy chips, half-defrosted fish and wobbly set gravy. Some people do seem determined to confirm everyone’s deep-seated prejudice that british food is crap. Well this time I was pleasantly surprised. Particularly as far as the tea was concerned.

Tea preparation and serving policy varies much from one establishment to the next I have noticed, and this cuppa was very much in keeping with the contrasted stylish/funky atmosphere of  “East London- God Save Brit Food”. It came in one massive thick mug, and with all the elaborate paraphernalia one might expect from a specialist coffee/tea shop. Now I’m not normally one for over-complicated pedantic tea ceremonial. Like anyone else I just shake a teabag around in a mug of boiling water until the desired colouring has been achieved and then add milk. However for once I decided to obey the 5min indication on the timer and it was worth the wait. I drink about 1,5Liters of tea every day, and since I have come to Germany all I’ve had to quench my thirst was, well… german tea (ie: not English). But this time was something else. Possibly the best cuppa I have ever had. EVER. I was heaving a sigh of pleasure with each sip. Does anyone out there know what brand of tea they serve in that place, I didn’t even think to ask.

Anyway, that was for the tea. The food was good. I know this is a bit of a contrast with the lyrical description of a humble cup of tea but it was scrambled eggs on toast, so how much can I say? I could I suppose write an ode to comfort food but it’s getting late. Scrambled eggs is not exactly a good choice if one wants to write a restaurant review, but that wasn’t the point. It was comfort food, it was obviously freshly made, tasted good and was just what I needed. It went perfectly well with the cup of tea and I felt at home for a while, except I was speaking German all the way through.

What else can I say about the place… The staff are very friendly and all native English-speakers! If I remember rightly the cooks were English, and the waiters Australian and Irish. We were waited on by ozzy Annabelle, who smiles a lot and fits in perfectly with the surroundings: friendly bubbly and just a little bit odd (and I mean that as a compliment). She even posed with a scone for me, how much more helpful can you get?

So my verdict: I will definitely go again next time I’m in Berlin, if only a cup of tea and a scone and to enjoy the atmosphere.

And I know it’s a veeery long shot, but if the young man who was sitting at the table opposite us should ever happen on this blog, I really feel I should have come over and said hello that day (Saturday 5th of November) ; please get in touch?

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