In the evening, we crossed Berlin via the sensible and timely S-bahn to our second hostel in the east side. But this was no ordinary hostel. It was also a boat! It was on the river Spree, just behind the east side gallery – which is the standing portion of the Berlin wall, covered with art works. It was an incredibly fun place to stay and the staff, one lovely Canadian lady in particular, were supremely helpful.
We arrived at the boat footsore and tired after a full day of sightseeing and asked our awesome Canadian hostess to recommend a nearby restaurant for dinner. She directed us to an Indian restaurant across the river called Amar which was exactly what we needed. The staff there were very cheerful and welcoming, providing complimentary shots of non-alcoholic drinks as we sat down and bringing our food promptly, which was much appreciated. Although three separate waiters did forget to bring us plates to eat off of. I started with aubergine pakora, which I would have shared with Mark if he liked aubergine (His loss, they were epic!) and then followed up with the lamb kadai which was lovely, tender meat in a hearty, fragrant sauce. Mark had the lamb tikka and we shared a rice and naan bread. And to drink? Tequila sunrise of course! I know it sounds weird, and I only ordered it because it’s my very favourite cocktail and I was very much in the mood for one, but it went extremely well with the curry! It was also huge. Serious value for money there. All in all, one of the best Indians I have ever had and such a vibrant environment to enjoy it in.
Well fed, but still tired, we ambled back across the bridge to bed.
Early the next morning I was woken by the most amazing thunder storm over the river, only to drift back to sleep and be awakened again by a quack at the open porthole. Holiday bliss!
Our destination for brunch was another recommendation from that dear, hardworking, Canadian. An unassuming place called Salon Schmuck on Skalitzer Strasse, across the river in Kreuzberg, with white garden furniture for outside seating and comfy mismatched sofas and arm chairs indoors. The music was chilled and suited to my tastes for a relaxed day – foo fighters, killers, etc. The drinks menu (alcoholic and non) was extensive. As well as the usual lists of tea, coffee and saftschorle, there were fresh pressed fruit and vegetable juices, chai lattes (hot and iced) and the best chocolate milk Mark and I had ever had. It was blended with ice and tasted dark chocolaty, rather than the sugar-sweet stuff we get over here. The breakfast menu was almost as interesting as the drinks and there were one or two lunch dishes as well. As far as I could tell, no self-respecting cafe in Berlin stops serving breakfast much before 16.00. I went for the cinnamon french toast with bacon, maple syrup and fruit salad, imagining a delicate dish of the kind that leaves me hungry in the one or two Edinburgh cafes I have been to for brunch, but with the added bonus of fresh fruit to cut through the richness. I could not have been more wrong. The three slices of french toast, topped with a pile of German bacon (which was like wafer thin fried ham), surrounded by a mountain of fruit, and served with a bowl of maple syrup, took me most of an hour to eat, although I must admit I was defeated at the very end. Mark’s breakfast was also substantial, but somewhat unorthodox – a great big bowl of chili with sour cream and bread. Stuffed with food, comfy on our sofa listening to the tunes and the patter of rain outside, we decided to camp out at Salon Schmuck a little longer, order a second round of drinks, and get stuck into a good book (or laptop).
After a while, though, we really did have to stretch our legs and walk off some of that bacon! Disregarding the rain – it was warm enough not to bother us much – we had a nice wander through surrounding Kreuzberg. The contrast between Kreuzberg (and Friedrichshain north of the river) and Mitte is pretty amazing. As we took the S-bahn between hostels I could easily believe we were now in a completely different city. Where Mitte had no litter or graffiti whatsoever – spookily so, actually, as there were no bins to be found. At one point I saw a woman abandon a broken umbrella in Mitte and when I looked back it had disappeared – the east side of Berlin was full of it. Even so, it didn’t really feel dirty, just untidy in a sort of well-loved way. Like a student flat. The people in the east were much more what you would expect to see from Berliners, in fact, I felt under a lot of pressure in Kreuzberg in particular to be ‘trendy’, something which I am most definitely not! That’s not to say there were less tourists in the east – I heard several British accents and spied many a map and guidebook – it just seemed to me that people there dressed for the environment. Naturally, I didn’t take any pictures of the buildings, bars, parks and railways. I did however, take a pictures of the biggest copy of “the very hungry caterpillar” I have ever seen. It was fully a meter long and remains the highlight of my afternoon adventures in Kreuzberg.
That evening, we headed out into Friedrichshain to another modern German restaurant I had read about – Schneeweiss. The boat hostess suggested she book us a table, and as she had yet to go wrong, we agreed. I don’t think we would have got seated if she hadn’t. Every smooth white table in that smooth white restaurant was reserved when we arrived, a little early, for our reservation. The decor was, as expected, white and icy, with beautiful forest and deer motifs on the windows. To start, I ordered a moscow mule from the cocktail menu – white and icy to match the room – and prayed that “gurke” was cucumber and not gherkin. Thankfully, my high school German did not fail me and it was very tasty! Mark and I both chose the braised beef dish from the menu. Local beef slow cooked and served with mashed potatoes, spring onion, roast salsify and celeriac and a thick, rich jus. Meltingly tender and satisfying. From my perusal of the menu, I was very excited by the special pudding – fresh madeleines, blueberry jelly, handmade blueberry marshmallows and elderflower sorbet. It looked amazing, but was far too sweet for my taste. The jelly was jam, the madeleines were saturated with sugar, the marshmallow was sticky and it was served on a smear of dulche de leche. The sharp sorbet was all that saved it from being nauseating. Mark, sensibly, had the apple strudel with custard.
Our last full day in Berlin dawned dry, so we jumped at the chance and rented a couple of bicycles from the hostel. Our route took us along the east side gallery and the bank of the Spree, crossing the river and canal mid-way through museumsinsel and onto Unter den Linden. Then it was pretty much a straight line through Mitte, then beautiful Tiergarten and into Charlottenburg to meet up with the Spree again as it flows into the gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg.
By this time the sun had come out in full force and we were beginning to wilt in the heat. High time for lunch! To Mark’s lasting enjoyment, we took Leibniz Strasse to Kant Strasse (the second street after Goethe Strasse) in search of Jules Verne – a cafe with a breakfast menu full of dishes named after his books. It’s actually a little hard to find, being as it is tucked away round the corner on Schluter Strasse, but this means its outdoor seating is away from the main road. Not really in the mood for breakfast, we both chose from the blackboard list of daily lunch specials. I had matjes (a very mild salt herring) with fresh herbs and a potato rosti and Mark had the pasta with sausage. And, just when it was most needed, cool refreshing grun bier!
Trying to locate Jules Verne resulted in a minor detour during which I spotted the only cupcake I had seen in the entire of Berlin. Always self sacrificing in the name of research, I proposed we move along the road for dessert. Der Kuchenladen was a bright little cake shop which claimed to specialise in cupcakes as well as other handmade desserts. Everything looked amazing but, despite the lure of the German cheesecake, I had to try a cupcake. There were only two kinds on offer and one had a great big half apricot on top. That’s the one for me, I said. While moist, tasty, and very generously sized, this was much more muffin than cupcake. Studded with chunks of fresh apricot and lightly iced, it was very tasty…for a muffin. Mark had the blackforest cake which had, beneath a full foot of cream (well…almost…) the tastiest cherry layer I have ever had in such a confection. A very good cake shop, but not really a cupcakery.
Our return journey took us through the bottom of Tiergarten, behind the zoo, where you can see several of the animals being exhibited including some very grumpy exotic birds, watching as their round, German cousins flit in and out of the bars. Then, not entirely intentionally, we cycled through Potzdamer Platz and back to the Spree again at Kollnischer Park where reside the Berlin bears Schnute and Maxi who were sensibly hiding in the shade. By the time I got back to the boat and saw the lovely pink colour of my arms, I wished I had had as much sense!
After a cooling shower and several bottles of water, we ambled out in search of dinner. Not having any strong preferences we sought somewhere close, cheap and shaded. Just across the street from Amar was a small Italian restaurant with plenty of tables outside and a few inside. For 10 euros we got two plates of pasta, bread and a bottle of water. Just what was needed. I didn’t take any pictures, but you can probably imagine what spaghetti bolognaise looks like.
We didn’t intend to have dessert again, but, as we sat at the window enjoying our dinner, more than a dozen people walked past with ice creams and frozen yogurts in all sizes and colours (but only one shape – scoops). Just round the corner we discovered a little hole in the wall ice cream shop with a queue the width of the street. Luckily the queue was fast moving and we got our lovely cold ice creams without too much extra sun exposure. The flavours that we tried included rhubarb frozen yogurt and ginger ice cream. As it was our last night in Berlin we decided we should explore the local nightlife, but first we’d head back to the boat and put our feet up – just until the sun went down.
We woke up the next morning very well rested and, after checking out of our room and leaving our bags in the lobby, wandered back to Salon Schmuck for a farewell drink and a more modest breakfast of bread and jam and boiled eggs. Then it was back for our bags, a stroll along the east side gallery to the S-bahn and a fast, efficient, train to the airport. After one more scoop of ice cream at the train station of course. Which was blackcurrant flavour and, despite coming from a train station, heavenly!