berlin, germany - back in brooklyn (well, close enough)

Crayola-colored graffiti and wheatpasted posters on faded old red brick, ethnic food joints crammed shoulder to shoulder on every block, a huge park where everyone hangs out in the sun on weekends?! I was swooning for Berlin in a New York minute -- half in total disbelief I was in Germany, half in total disbelief I wasn't in Brooklyn.

Berlin, Germany graffiti

After a late night arrival, happy reunion with our very wonderful friends Katharina & Max, and a quick meal of hummus and cous-cous, Alex and I curled up on a blow-up mattress in the library of the flat belonging to Max's architect mum.

The next morning, we hit the ground running in the Mitte neighborhood.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany Neues Museum

The courtyard in front of the Neues Museum was breathtaking, and the interior is the stuff of my dreams -- colorful tiles, faded paint, ornate columns and wainscoting and ceiling arches.

Berlin, Germany Neues Museum

The collection was mainly ancient Egyptian, but my favorite room was this sun-drenched hallway with a statue I couldn't peel my eyes from.

Berlin, Germany Neues Museum

After a few hours, we stumbled back out into daylight...

Berlin, Germany

And headed straight for beers & sausages. The whole city was setting up for the Champion's League final that night -- Juve vs Barca -- and there was a nice excited/anticipatory/drunk energy on the streets.

 
Katharina and I are undeniably soulmates, ordering single-serving Prosecco in beer country.

Reichstag, German Bundestag Parliament, Berlin
REICHSTAG - Platz der Republik 1

Bellies full of beer, we queued up to head to the top of the Reichstag, parliament headquarters. Funny to think of all the suits hard at work below us as we walked around the roof taking in the 360' views of Berlin at sunset.

Reichstag, German Bundestag Parliament, Berlin

Reichstag, German Bundestag Parliament, Berlin

Of course after that, we were starved.

Ixthys Korean Food, Berlin
IXTHYS - Pallasstraße 22

We nabbed an outdoor table in front of a tiny Korean joint in Schöneberg. Ixthys is the Greek word for fish, but less in the grilled-with-lemon-Mediterranean sense than in the saints-and-Bible sense. The walls and menu pages were -- what is the right word here? -- drenched in Christian exhortations. 

Below is the menu... these pages, Christian instructional manual; turn the page, mouthwatering phos and noodles.

Ixthys Korean Food, Berlin

And the bibimbap was... straight out of heaven. Holy cow, so good. As if made by angels themselves. (Get it?)

Ixthys Korean Food, Berlin

 Two veggie bibimbap, one beef, extra kimchi, a pot of tea, and one plate of... you'll have to ask Max.

Ixthys Korean Food, Berlin

Katharina, who had lived in Korea for a few years, and who was the reason we'd sought out this restaurant (after sharing her mouth-watering memories of Korean cuisine) declared this the real deal.

Ixthys Korean Food, Berlin

After that, we went to find seats at a bar to watch The Match.


But the seats at the pubs had been full for hours, so instead we curled up on the sofas back at home and watched it on the little set, filling me with very fond memories of growing up in the 90s.


Alex's team lost, and mine won, so we all went out for depressed/celebratory drinks. The rounds piled up quickly and hours flew by.

Chen Che Teehaus, Berlin
CHEN CHE TEEHAUS - Rosenthaler Str. 13

Which just meant we were all the more ready for brunch the next morning. We met friends for Vietnamese at a breathtaking flower-filled, yellow-glowing resto with a breezy outdoor garden.

Chen Che Teehaus, Berlin

Chen Che Teehaus, Berlin

It looks empty only because everyone was (rightly) eating al fresco in the courtyard.

Chen Che Teehaus, Berlin

Pho all around.

Chen Che Teehaus, Berlin


Alex's face (rightly) says, "This is PHO time, not photo time." And this is the biggest my smile can possibly get.

Chen Che Teehaus, Berlin

Can you blame me?

A million thanks to Daniel & Thao for sharing this spot with us. During brunch, we were making plans to come back for dinner that night... and brunch the next day... and maybe dinner...

Every last drop downed -- and chased with impeccable dessert -- we stuffed ourselves into Max's car and hit the road to explore.

Neueheimat Berlin
NEUEHEIMAT - Dirschauer Str.

Neueheimat ("new home") is a flea market/open air space/beer garden/rock climbing park/vintage clothing emporium/artist gallery/sausage vendor/wine bar.

Neueheimat Berlin


Neueheimat Berlin

These converted old hangars, covered in graffiti and draped with Christmas lights and stuffed with food and booze vendors, with pop music and old showtunes and jazz and whatever playing in the background, inspired Katharina and I to consider leaving the boys behind and moving in together in Berlin.

Neueheimat Berlin

Neueheimat Berlin

Making tough decisions at the wine bar.

Neueheimat Berlin

Neueheimat Berlin

Neueheimat Berlin

The sun was setting but the air was still warm and everyone seemed buzzed. We kept the flow going with a visit to Mauerpark, Berlin's answer to Prospect Park.

Mauerpark, Berlin

Mauerpark, Berlin
MAUERPARK - Gleimstraße 55

Every Sunday there is a free karaoke competition, where throngs and throngs of people line the hillside waiting for their turn to raise their hand and be plucked from the crowd to belt out songs from a little machine in the center of it all.

I stayed far away from this. You're welcome, Berlin. 


Mauerpark, Berlin

Katharina hit the swings with sweeping views over the park, and looked so gorgeous and free and happy swinging into the drooping sun.

Mauerpark, Berlin

Mauerpark, Berlin

Mauerpark, Berlin

Mauerpark, Berlin

Mauerpark, Berlin

And we grabbed beers and sprawled out on the grass to listen to various bands and people-watch.


The next day, we met with a wonderful old family friend of Max's, who took us on a brilliant architecture tour of the city.

Chipperfield Kantine, Berlin
CHIPPERFIELD KANTINE - Joachimstraße 11A

This included a delicious lunch at the canteen in the office of the architect David Chipperfield, whose trademark is clean minimalism. The menu had maybe a half dozen dishes on offer, all impeccable and extremely reasonably priced; you order at the bar, grab a seat under the leafy trees and dig in when a cheerful waiter brings out the massive plates of rabbit/meatballs/lamb/salads/and such.



It was such a treat to duck into old schools and lush courtyards and hidden lunch spots, to have these beautiful tiny details pointed out and explained by our wonderfully charming guide.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin
KUNSTHAUS TACHELES - Oranienburger Str. 54

Katharina & Max caught on to the fact that I was desperate to dive head-first into Berlin's incredible graffiti scene, and delivered beyond my imagination.

Kunsthaus Tacheles is a former department store, built in 1908 and taken over after the fall of the Berlin Wall by squatting artists. Every inch and speck of dust in this spot is covered in gorgeous art and graffiti, its floors turned into galleries and bookstores. 

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

This building is in a bit of a limbo at the moment; a few years ago its tenants accepted a 1 million euro buyout package, and the hipster artists worry that Mitte's gentrification will see this institution ripped down. So: go now, while it still stands. Go go go.

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

Kunsthaus Tacheles graffiti, Berlin

My graffiti box ticked, we set out next to tick another: the Berlin Wall.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin
CHECKPOINT CHARLIE - Friedrichstraße 43-45

Checkpoint Charlie was a bit surreal; how fitting, though, that the first thing you see as you are "entering the American sector" are the golden arches of a McDonald's?

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

They have large chunks of the wall standing like statues across the city; testaments to history.

Berlin Wall

It was so fascinating to be here with Max -- who was born & raised for 18 years in the apartment on whose library floor Alex and I were sleeping on. Max was living there when the Wall fell -- and it was hard for me to comprehend this, as someone who learned about the war & the Wall as a little girl in Catholic school and thought it felt so, so far removed from myself and my world and my life.

As if it wasn't even real.

Berlin Wall

And, naturally, my introspective moment was jolted when we saw Max sprinting across the street with a pink unicorn balloon.



Just two dudes celebrating their decades-old friendship with a pink unicorn in front of the Berlin Wall.


Alex was just thrilled and not at all embarrassed to cruise Berlin with his einhorn.


And this trip ended as all the good ones should -- with absolutely fantastic Indian food.


A million grateful thanks to Max and Katharina for being such terrific hosts and fantastic company and engrossing conversationalists, as always. I was very lucky to experience Berlin for the first time in such good hands and through local eyes.

Being in Berlin felt a bit like exhaling after you've been holding your breath for a long time; in buttoned-up, stern Switzerland, where everyone is pushing 60 and straightening their designer suits, sometimes I brood over not quite fitting in and belonging. In Berlin, surrounded by carefree hipsters and artists and young people, it was like being back on the streets of New York -- no one cares who you are, we're all misfits here, do your thing, it's all good. For me, it was a much needed release.

I'd return to Berlin in a heartbeat -- after all, it's a hell of a lot closer than Brooklyn, and little is lost in translation.

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