Archive for the ‘Berlin & Germany’ Category

Eating Berlin Part 1 – Rise & Shine

Eating Berlin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Perhaps we were overly ambitious. Jordi and I met on the Bernauer Straße platform at 7:00 a.m., groggy, sleep-wrecked, and hungry. So hungry, I, at least, was on the verge of hangry. I should have known better than to skip breakfast before embarking on a journey from Schöneberg at the southern end of the ring to Prenzlauer Berg in the north, even if our plan was to spend the day running around the city eating.

But we went ahead and shot a few scenes in the bluish early-morning light. We had some time before Bonanza, the first stop on our tour, opened at 8:00 a.m. By the time we walked the length of Bernauer Straße, past the Mauerpark flea market and clusters of iron poles marking where the Wall once stood, we were both so excited for coffee.

Bonanza was suspiciously dark. At first, we chalked it up to Berlin’s lackadaisical approach to opening hours. Upon closer inspection, we realized that it didn’t open until 10:00 a.m. on Saturdays. Feeling the tired pull a lack of caffeine can have on a serious addict, and by this time both pretty hangry, we called it quits, took the train up to Osloer Straße and had breakfast in Jordi’s apartment: croissants from the little bakery downstairs, thick slices of soft, mild cheese and coffee boiled on the stovetop moka. At 10:00 a.m., we took the train back down to Bernauer Straße and started over again. As if 7:00 a.m. had never happened.

Subway stairs (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

There was a lot going on behind-the-scenes in the making of this little film. Mainly because, have you ever tried talking to a camera all day? It is hard.

You’re so preoccupied with trying to sound smart, funny, and natural all at the same time, that you end up sounding like a parody of yourself – which is, of course neither smart nor funny nor natural. » Continue reading this post…

Queens and Virgins: Caraway-Flax Crackers & Moscow Mules

Moscow mules (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

If I were to write a composite film based on the trending topics in this year’s Berlinale, it would be about a virgin queen who wears too little clothing in the snow, gets pregnant, murders a homeless man, and all of the characters would be played by James Franco.

I’m living in movie purgatory. We (being our four-person office and a plus one) average around four films a day, which is moderate compared to some of the true punishers who squash in up to seven, starting with a 9:30 breakfast pic. I’ve seen 22 films so far, from the truly baffling (Dyke Hard) to the surprisingly fantastic (How to Win at Checkers, Virgin Mountain) to the very, very nude (Out of Nature).

Ellen slices cucumbers (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

German shot glasses (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Ice cubes in the glass (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It sounds fun, like having a sick day without being sick. But it’s exhausting, running around Berlin from theater to theater, waking up at 5:30 every morning to wait in the ticket line, gobbling a fast McDonald’s Egg McMuffin before pushing through a mass of people at the theater to snag a seat at least a few rows back from the front. Why do we put ourselves through this drama for ten whole days, when let’s be honest, we were just in it to see the world premiere of Fifty Shades of Grey?

Cucumber slices (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Cucumber garnish (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Squeezing lime juice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Cutting limes for Moscow Mules (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Because, as I can attest from having been-there-done-that at the Berlinale last year, it’s incredibly satisfying to have seen the films people will be talking about next year long before they’re famous. It may be emotionally and physically exhausting, but it’s also magical, overloading on all these movies. It gives you the chance to compare totally different stories and storytelling styles and helps you pinpoint just what makes a movie great. It’s a chance to see movies you never would otherwise. True, sometimes you’re stuck with “I’m too smart for my own good” nonsense, but sometimes you discover a true gem from a young director deserving of more exposure. » Continue reading this post…

A Christmas Market

Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Berlin has a rich and varied Christmas market tradition to distract its residents from winter’s misery. (I’m getting banal, aren’t I? Weather, weather, weather.) But truly, when there’s very little else to get people out of the house than the promise of a steaming mug of mulled wine and a hot bratwurst poking out either end of a round white roll, you appreciate what a good Christmas market can do.

A trip to the Christmas market begins with Glühwein, Germany’s take on mulled wine. This serves two purposes. The first is to help you get into the mood. In the same way a bite of bread pudding always takes me back to the Old Country Buffet, a very rural American buffet chain with surprisingly good fried chicken and hot ham sunbathing under a heat lamp, or the way my mother’s apple pie always feels like fall – you can’t really be at a Christmas market unless you’ve had a mug of Glühwein.

Glühwein and hot chocolate (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Poffertjes with powdered sugar (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Baked camembert at the Christmas market (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The second reason is much less romantic. By the time you’ve left the subway station and made it to the market, your feet are already frozen and you’ve got the shoulder shimmy shakes. A little hot drink made of a little hot alcohol goes a long way in warming you up.

The next thing you do at a Christmas market is walk. Each market is set up in its own little maze of tents and shacks selling sweets and toys, Christmas gifts, decorations, and other useless bits and bobs. Glühwein in hand, you wander from stand to stand picking up stocking stuffers and baubles for the tree.

Baked camembert (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Making poffertjes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Camembert with red berries and aioli (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Soon it’s time for a refill on that empty mug. This time, you’ll nestle up to a spot around a tall, standing-room only table and send someone off to buy sausages – classic bratwurst or the special kind from Thüringen, whose flavor hints at caraway, marjoram, and garlic. » Continue reading this post…

Berlin to Burladingen, and Back

Opa (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The weather was unseasonably warm on the Alb. While Berlin’s skies were overcast and gray, raindrops dripping from every balcony and eave, Stuttgart’s sun was shining. A filmy blue sky unrolled over deeply green hills as we drove away from the city and into the rural landscape of the Schwäbische Alb. It’s called the Swabian Jura in English, but that feels so wrong to say, I just won’t.

I forget how pretty the Alb is when I’m not there, especially in late spring and early summer, when the trees have bloomed and the fields sprout full of wild daisies, dandelions and purple wildflowers. I love the unreal color of green coating the grass, the way the landscape looks freshly dipped in dew.

Flowers on the Alb (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My brother and I are on our way to our grandfather’s house. My uncle is driving, we’re chatting about the upcoming world cup and which nations are the happiest on Earth. He outlines our program for the weekend. When you only fly south for a long weekend, your hours are tightly regulated. My aunt and uncle are coming for dinner, the next day, if the weather holds, we’ll go grilling on the Eichland. There’s talk of Eurovision.

Burladingen is all talk, it’s always all talk. By which I mean, we start a constant stream of visiting and chatting and catching up from the moment we set foot in my grandfather’s house to the moment we leave. And in the Southern Germany I know, there’s no talking without something tasty to go with it – creamy mushrooms wrapped up in crepes, Danishes and coffee, homemade pizza finished with a round of my grandfather’s bootleg raspberry liqueur, dark bread for breakfast with butter and jam, cake and cake and cake. “It’s not my fault if you go home hungry,” my grandfather says. » Continue reading this post…

It’s Spargelzeit!: White Asparagus with Honey-Dijon Sauce

White asparagus with bacon and honey-mustard dressing (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The asparagus are miniature trees, woody and white. Like baby birches tapering into golden spear-peaks. They fill the grocery’s bins, and roadside stands sell crates overflowing with ghostly stalks. Cooking magazines sport bundles on the cover; they’re in turn glistening with butter, flecked with green herbs, or soothed with a blanket of mustard sauce. On the streets, people whisper their favorite recipes to one another or debate proper preparation. When spring hits in Germany, you may as well shout it out: It’s Spargelzeit!

White asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Spargelzeit begins in mid-April and lasts until the 24th of June, the feast day of St. John the Baptist. In Germany, Spargel refers only to white asparagus. What Americans call “asparagus” earns its own differentiator here: “green asparagus.” Here, real asparagus is white – those skinny, little green fingers are an aberration.

Peeled white asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Asparagus peel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Yet, like dogs with chopped off tails, white asparagus isn’t a natural occurrence. It’s just another one of those ways in which we’ve altered nature for so long we’ve gotten used to it. White asparagus is cultivated by covering the shoots with soil as they grow (a process called hilling) to prevent exposure to sunlight. Without sun, the shoots never begin to photosynthesize, and remain white.

No matter the methods, people go nuts when Spargelzeit hits. The shops set up displays; there are special long pots for cooking Spargel, special ladles for fishing individual stalks from the boiling pot, special plates to set the Spargel on, not to mention myriads of Spargel peelers, all purporting to be the best.

Mustard in a measuring spoon (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Long stalks of white asparagus (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

But there might just be some grounds for the hysteria. White asparagus is milder and sweeter than its skinny cousin. The plump stalks are delicate and must be cooked gently to release their softly nutty flavor. Because the asparagus are so fragile, they must be quickly processed, sold, and eaten. » Continue reading this post…

How to Be a German-American

Toast with leberwurst (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Tacos (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For lunch, make slices of toast from dark bread crunchy with seeds and grains then top it with fresh leberwurst and thin slips of yellow onion, cracked black pepper and coarse salt. For lunch the next day, make tacos on corn tortillas loaded up with limey guacamole, habanero, red onion and corn salsa, sour cream and ripe, red tomatoes.

Never lean too much one way or too much the other. Love butter with cheese. Love brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts.

Live in both lands and languages, never mind being better at one or the other.

Know how to whip up the dough for spätzle and how to press it into boiling water, waiting for the little gnarled noodles to bob up to the surface. Sweep them out with a slotted spoon. Know that the secret to spätzle is to fry them up in a buttered pan with cheese until the knobs sport caramel-colored scabs that crunch between your teeth. Know the warmth of eating at on old wooden table with a knit beige cloth and chipped, flower-printed plates. » Continue reading this post…

The Arrival Poems: Berliner Leek and Apple Tart

Leek and apple tart with goat cheese (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Who knows pleasure who does not know the smell of leeks on a stovetop? Fragrant and sweet, soft with butter, the scent is a perfume muskier than onion and green with earth. The leeks slowly simmer down, reducing to the thinnest slimness, translucent and rimmed with butter-burnt brown. Now there is sage in the pan, now salt, now the hiss of hard apple cider.

In this moment, I can imagine nothing more beautiful. I am completely happy.

I have just started to write poems about Berlin. What does this mean? For one, it means that I have stopped writing poems about New York. It means that at least for a while, Berlin is the most tangible home I have.

Baking the crust (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Rolled-out dough (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Tart crust (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Beneath my fingers, flour and butter blend. Light, quick rubs until the butter leaves no more trace than a yellow stain and the dough feels silkily dry. Then there is a whisked egg, drops of cold water. Then the dough is a smooth ball beneath my fingertips. It is rolled and glossy, wrapped in plastic and set aside. It needs to think.

It seems to me that New York is a story about leaving a place you love and Berlin is a story about arriving in a place you come to know. Where we are or where we live is never as simple as choosing what we love. It can be right to live in a place we don’t care for and wrong to live in the place that knows us best. » Continue reading this post…

Let’s Talk About Lard

Toast with Schmalz (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

My father used to talk about how when he was younger, he and his siblings would eat toast with Schmalz as a snack. Schmalz and salt when they were in the mood for something savory. Schmalz and sugar when sweet. I used to love the way it sounded. Schmalz. Like something rustic, real. Romantic even. Thick, crusty bread still bakery warm and slathered up with Schmalz, whatever that was.

One day I discovered that whatever it was, was lard. Yes, just good old fashioned rendered and congealed fat. Slap that on a piece of toast and eat it up.

Recently, for work, I was translating menus and got stuck on one of the dishes for the snack buffet: Auswahl von Brötchen mit Schmalz. How was I supposed to translate Schmalz? I couldn’t just call it “lard” and stick it on a menu. What sane English speaker would want to eat “Assorted rolls with lard?” » Continue reading this post…