Germany 2023

Diese fahrt endet hier. ‘This ride ends here’ is what they announce at the terminus of bus lines in Berlin. And the European free ride for me is over, too. Ashish moves to the Dairy State soon. Don’t ask when—no one knows—it’s really fun hanging in limbo like this—but soon. I will probably never return to Berlin. As it is the thought of even going to an airport fills me with dread, fear and loathing. I will say that if there was a non-stop flight to Berlin I’d think about it but as it stands I can only get there with a stop somewhere and missing connections for Berlin has resulted several overnight stays in hotels and airports, and hours of anxiety as whatever flight I am currently on is late for the connecting flight and no amount of butt-clenching or arm-rest squeezing is making the flight go faster.

He’s lived in Ghent, Oslo, Frankfurt and Berlin. I’ve loved every one of those cities. Berlin, though, is where I’ve spent most of my time in Europe and I’ve loved her best. I am not sure why. It’s not charming or quaint. And it certainly isn’t the Germans. But there’s something.

The architecture here is crazy. This is an apartment building. I want to live here.

Apparently they keep a tight grip on sneezing in Germany.

So when your bus doesn’t come and this goes up on the sign it means, well, I have no idea. I walked home after that..

These Turkish pickles. Ooo mama. The pickled cabbage was the best part. A friend’s Turkish grandmother made them. I have the recipe.

Always a fave.

This part is pretty cool looking, the bottom part, the building, though, is actually silly.

KaDeWe. Just nowhere like it.

Berliner Dome. It’s Lutheran so, you know, not my people.

This cool place.

They have their share of graffiti. Some of it more poignant than others.

Oh, you know, food in all its various glories.

This was alarming not to mention prohibitively expensive.

On my way out.

My last view of Berlin. Sad face emoji.
Ireland. It’s not as picturesque as they say. At least this part isn’t.

Top 5 reasons to visit Berlin

The Humboldt Forum. Not exactly a museum, this gigantic edifice is called a forum because its purpose is the exchange of ideas (as if I know what I am talking about). Named after a pair of brothers whose ideas were ahead of their time and whose fame was global (Humboldt Avenue three blocks from my house in Milwaukee is named after one or both of them), the mission of this institution is very diverse. (You can see their website here)

Which says in part:

Diversity is the decisive foundation for working and thinking in the Humboldt Forum. The Humboldt Forum stands for the equal rights of all people – in all their diversity. It sees itself as a resonance space and a contact zone, a site for joint debates on cultural identities and global futures.

The Humboldt Forum wants to promote open dialogue: to provide a platform and make it audible. Visitors, contributors and staff play an important role in making this diversity something that can be experienced and through which to make their own mark on the content of the Forum.

As part of their mission they are returning, to the best of their abilities, stolen or looted artifacts. I don’t know details but the place is a glorious marvel. Enormous, well thought out, extremely detailed but accessible enough for anyone to know what they are looking at.

And it is free which is great because it would take days if not months to go through.

Quintessential German food

When friends visit Berlin (or family for that matter, although none have. Note to self: See estate lawyer soon for will revisions) among other things we like to give them as great a dining experience as we can muster. Our favorite places, Italian, Chinese, Turkish, French, plus at least one or two great German meals. Joseph Roth Diele, if that can happen, and Marjelchen, for sure.

The Chocolate Sommelier (see her website here) and her dog were here visiting recently and for her last meal we took her to Marjelchen.

While the food is great and atmosphere is charming, the service at Marjelchen (Mariel-chen) can be really dismal. Despite the fact that the waiters seem to know us, our last two outings have had some serious service low points. But not the food. OMG their sauerbraten rivals my own. Not crazy about these potato dumplings but, you know, I can deal with it. It’s not like I’m eating anchovies. Karen had the schnitzel (I am not such a fan)—I think she liked it and Husoor had, I dunno, something with spätzle. I wasn’t paying attention to anything I only had eyes for the sauerbraten. The cabbage was nice too.

I really have no idea what this was. Something with spätzle.

Top 5 reasons to go to Berlin

Shopping. Specifically KaDeWe, but shopping in general. I used to hate shopping. Playing against type, I hated shopping and musicals. On the other hand I am adept at floral arranging, but I digress.

Still . . . shopping. I miss shopping. I didn’t used to shop (grocery shopping excepted) unless I was forced to and now, it seems, that I cannot have it, I miss it. Not just the actual shopping so much but I miss stores. Michigan Avenue in Chicago is a ghost town. The downtown of Milwaukee is urban blight.

In Europe there are still stores and shopping. I don’t know why this would be but it’s true. Ku’Damm the fancy shopping street in Berlin is a lively, happ’nin’ stretch of neighborhood, blocks and blocks and blocks long. There’s even a toilet store that sells those fancy Japanese butt washing toilets! There is no real way to describe KaDeWe though. Kaufhaus des Westens—Department store of the West, apparently named back when there was a “West.”

These pictures do not do the place justice. Not only is it glorious, there is everything one can imagine there. Art supplies, designer clothes, all manner of housewares, butcher shop, bakery, cakes (the Germans it seems do not eat cookies), breads, cheeses, wines, chocolate, shoes, watches, restaurants, delis, I could go on. Right now, in January there is a giant sale. Sixty percent off. Of course, not off of gloves since I need a pair having lost a couple in the confusion of my recent travels.

It’s open next Sunday—EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays! I’m hoping to spend a fortune.

I still don’t like musicals.

Yes, even here

I can feed my addiction to stuffing. This is leftover mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy, the very pinnacle of deliciousness and comfort (not to mention lardassedness). I roasted a stuffed chicken for this very thing. Leftovers.

And it was worth it. We bought the chicken from a farmer in the aptly named “Farmer’s Market.” And it was really really good. But the stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy were the best. The chicken was only a means to an end.


Imagine my surprise/delight/horror when I saw a box-mix of dumplings in the supermarket. Not just any old semmelknödeln, but “der klassiker!” Generally speaking I am opposed to box-mixes but, hey, it’s Germany, I love semmelknödeln and I’ll try anything—yes, I have tried anchovies and they are disgusting. An added plus was that the box was like $1.50.

So when I was in the store reading the instructions, just kidding, I never read instructions. If I took delivery of an unassembled electron microscope I’d just jump right in discarding pieces that didn’t seem relevant or the right shape (as I imagine the shape ought to be) and get on with it. Come to think about it this may be why a number of things I’ve assembled didn’t function/look right/taste particularly pleasant.

Not that I was going to make them today, I wasn’t, but I did look at the instructions once I got home thinking I may need to get other ingredients. Box cakes need things; eggs, water and oil. Who knew? These could need Pflappenpfugen or eier or any number of things I am sure not to have on hand. I was completely confused. Of course the German is almost meaningless to me but the illustrations were . . . I had no idea what I was looking at.

And then I opened the box! OMFG. Each dumpling is in a plastic thingamadoodle. Ugh. Greta Thurnberg forgive me.

Just no. Although I will report further on this hellish nightmare. OK, not hellish on the order of any number of hellish things, but, you know, not Disney Princess Level. Basically “hellish” can have a pretty wide range—hangnail to squirrels-in-the-peach-tree to overnight in the Newark Airport.

Top 5 reasons to go to Berlin

Joseph Roth Diele. Really just the sweetest nicest little restaurant I’ve ever been in. The food is good, not gonna get a James Beard Award but the food is certainly, like grandma made (OK, not my grandma, but someone’s). My friend Karen and I went for lunch. I was insistent that we get there before noon while she dawdled along gawping at shit and there I was hurrying her up. She was like Jesus! OK! Alright already, I’m coming! Jeez.

We sat down at 11:55 (despite her efforts to slow me down) and exactly at noon the place filled completely up—with people standing outside waiting to get in.

Unfortunately they got our order mixed up with the people behind us who then left in a German huff over it. I’d ordered the semmelknödeln, bread dumplings in mushroom gravy, and Karen had ordered the spätzle with mushrooms and mushroom gravy. What we actually received was spätzle with Swiss cheese and spätzle with onions and speck. I knew it was wrong when they set it down but the people who work there do not speak a word of English and the top of my head got sweaty just thinking about saying “Oh pardon me I believe I’d ordered the . . . ” And the possibility that I had mistakenly actually ordered these meals existed and I didn’t want to make a fuss, you know, being conflict avoidant and all. Fortunately I was unable to witness the snafu behind me. Karen took the brunt of it. The lady seemed to think it was Karen’s fault. I stayed out of it. I didn’t want to get involved.

I do want the semmelknödlen so I will be going back.

Top 5 reasons to go to Berlin

These dumplings. I cannot say I am an expert in dumplings. I almost never have them. I am not even sure where I can get good ones in Milwaukee. I have never had what I thought was a good one—even at places with supposedly good ones.

But in Berlin, Peking Ente, Jesus, these are fantastic. (Note adept chopstick usage.)

Berlin, two weeks later

There was a good possibility that I would not make another attempt to get to Berlin after the trauma of my recent holiday excursion to Newark and back. But, like giving birth, the horror of it faded sufficiently and I rebooked. This time through Dublin (there are no direct flights from O’Hare to Berlin).

As a precaution I brought a box of Dots as self-care in case I was delayed and forced to sleep in an airport terminal. Stupidly I put the box in my luggage so if I had wanted them I wouldn’t have been able to have them. I didn’t need them after all since I did make it to Berlin—not without the requisite amount of anxiety provoking delay.

We landed in Dublin 5 minutes before the flight to Berlin closed. The flight attendant, when I asked if I was going to make it, said it was 15 minutes away so I sprinted through the Dublin airport at 5:50 am. So that was fun. The distance from the gate from which I deplaned to the gate from which I’d depart was more than a mile (my iPhone told me). I made it.

And now I have Dots to enjoy at my discretion in Berlin. I may possibly be able to buy them in the American Food Store. But, really, I don’t want to go anywhere near that place.