Berlin is a fun city all year long, but it is a particularly wonderful place to be in August, with crisp, bright autumn-like mornings that turn into warm sunny days where the light lasts long into the evening, and a constant buzz of activity as Berliners strive to enjoy the last summer rays.
After a late flight followed by a lovely candlelit Shabbat dinner on the terrace, we were ready to go seek out some of the local flavor for the weekend. We made it two blocks before we ran into a middle-aged tattooed woman running a fruit stand – our achilles heel. And the primary product this time of year is fresh blueberries, by the kilo. We had no choice but to buy them and bake a pie. Germans may be direct, but they are incredibly nice, generous people; as we were paying for the blueberries, the owner started piling “tastings” into our bag as well – prune plums, red plums, and when we tried to thank her she looked genuinely offended and brusquely said “do not thank me. of course you must also take apples”, and proceeded to stick some apples in as well. On our way out, we asked if she was always there, to which she replied “yes, I am here from the beginning of asparagus until the end of blueberries.” This is now the context in which I would like to always refer to periods of time – by seasonal produce. I can’t wait to come home in pumpkins!
After dropping our fruit back at the apartment, we caught the train to town, peering out the window until we saw the river Spree, then jumping out to begin our quest for the day – to wander along the waterways of Berlin and end at an Italian wine bar. Almost immediately we spotted a very hip looking coffee shop and ducked in. One thing that becomes evident very quickly is that everyone and everything in Berlin is hip and trendy and cooler than you are. This shop reinforced that image, a perfect representation of Berlin’s “poor but sexy” vibe.
Two perfectly-made machiattos later, we began our wanderings. A long walk down a canal eventually led us to a great surprise, a huge, beautiful, leafy green park that stretched far longer than we could see, following the banks of the Spree. One of my favorite things about Berlin is that it feels as though you are walking around inside a big park that happens to have pieces of city stuck throughout instead of the other way around, where trees are scarce and the landscape is concrete, as I find most large cities feel.
In fact, some people get so caught up in the natural surroundings that they become one with nature.
Strolling through the park was a perfect way to spend the rest of our day. It took us through islands, abandoned amusement parks where 50 foot dinosaurs lay dying on their sides, fields, woods, and biergartens, and culminated in a beautiful sunset over the water.
We ended the evening at a wonderful little wine bar, Muret La Barba, recommended to us by the local Spanish wine shop owners. Two antipastis, two homemade pastas, and some great chianti and sangiovese for around 50 euro – yes, please.
Everyone needs an Oma so that they have someone to make sure they don’t miss out on incredible cultural events such as the SouthEast Asian market that takes place every Sunday at lunchtime in a small park in a non-touristy area of Berlin. It took us a few minutes of walking in circles to find this incredible gem, tucked away in a peaceful patch of green by an unpopular metro stop, but when we saw the rainbow sea of umbrellas and steady stream of locals in the know, and we knew we had found it.
Every sunday around lunchtime, hundreds of Berlin’s SouthEast Asian (mainly Thai) population gathers in the park to cook up their best dishes and serve them to the public for somewhere between 1 and 5 euro. It was heaven. Steaming pots of broth with dumplings, shish kabobs of myriad meats, fried sticky rice balls filled with bean paste, potstickers in every color of the rainbow, and best of all, huge plates of hot homemade pad thai made to order, with 15+ ingredients, right in front of you by an adorable woman, for $5.
Bellies full, we decided to ward off the impending food coma by exploring one of Berlin’s other remarkable yet strange treasures, Tempelhofer Park. Tempelhofer is an abandned airfield that, at 909 acres, is larger than New York City’s Central Park and one of the biggest free public spaces in the world. It also has a fascinating history: On June 20,1948, Soviet authorities halted all traffic by land and water into or out of the western-controlled sectors of Berlin, leaving just a few incredibly small access routes into the city. This forced the Western Powers to choose between abandoning the city or attempting to airlift in enough supplies to support its 2½ million residents, so for the next eleven months this is what they did. The airport officially closed in 2008, but reopened for public enjoyment in 2010, and though a large open space may not sound that excited from the outside, it showcases Berlin’s vibrant culture and creative charm better than anywhere else I’ve been so far. We walked in the entrance, expectations fairly low, and immediately were sucked into the busy scene – to our left was a mini art golf course, given to 11 artists to design out of recycled goods with holes made of objects like toilets and plungers; we walked straight and ran into a runway full of kite-skateboarders, rollerbladers, and families teaching their toddlers how to ride a bike. Continuing around the periphery, we stumbled upon a game that at first glance appeared to be a real-life foam version of a game of thrones battle. On further investigation, we determined the rules somewhat resemble rugby, but with players donning shields, swords, and if you’re really special, a ball-in-chain weapon.
Photo courtesy of Miss Poulain
Photo courtesy of Bellisimakids
We couldn’t help but leave feeling revitalized and so glad to be a part of this world. Berlin, du bist so wunderbar.