Embracing Butter

Author Archive for Talya

Barcelona!

Barcelona street

Ahhh, lovely Barcelona. How I adore you. I first visited the Catalan capitol back when I was 21 years old. Yes. I was a cute little blonde baby when I first visited and fell in love with the city … I’d been working in south Germany at the time and needed a break from the staunch Deutsch and bad weather. Visiting a girlfriend in sunny Spain seemed to be the perfect thing to do. And indeed it was! That summer I fell in love with the city (I may or may not have fallen in love with a French actor at the theater festival that summer as well … ) …

Barcelona Port

… And that love (for the city, not the silly French actor boy) was the reason I had to go back and see if it still held the same magic for me as it did back then. You know we humans work – we tend to glorify and magnify things of the past – former lovers, homes we used to live in, places we’ve visited. I had to see if I’d done this with Barcelona or if it was in fact that amazing – yet understated – a place.

Back then, at age twenty-one, I’d taken a train from Germany, through the south of France, all the way to Spain. It was a long and hot but beautiful and fun summer trip. This time, with children and a job and much less time than back then, I took a flight instead (which I crazily almost canceled out of fear of flying, but more on my crazy phobia another day … )

Barcelona bakery

Essentially, I had to go back to see if the city really did still captivate me. I’d tried to escape there for a weekend back in 2012, but that trip was apparently not meant to be, as the flight was canceled an hour before it should have left Berlin. But no canceled flight this time. Two and a half hours in a plane and I was there. Back in what I remembered as one of my favorite cities.

And did it disappoint? No, it did not. Barcelona has the same feeling about it as it did then. That and maybe a few more tourists. But the interesting thing about this trip, is that now that I am older and (hopefully) wiser, I could finally articulate why I like it so much. It isn’t just a feeing any more as it was before.

Place Royal

 So why do I love this city, you may ask? Well, because it’s beautiful but messy. Chaotic but calm. Relaxed and easy-going, yet somehow productive at the same time. In fact, when I describe the city, in a way I am describing myself and that is probably why I feel so at peace there. And unlike many other pristine European cities, Barcelona has a rugged charm that is hard not to love

Talya Sagrada

 While other cities are nice to visit as one would a museum, Barcelona is a place you come to LIVE … To eat, drink, dance, enjoy, and bask in the sun by a gorgeous blue sea (as long as it’s not cloudy, that is). And that, my friends, is why this place is in my world, second-to-none (and why I CAN’T WAIT to bring my children back with me in the summer so that they can enjoy it as well!).

Making life beautiful (even in the midst of chaos)

Life is Beautiful Rose Vienna small

“She couldn’t go back and make the details pretty, she could only move forward and make the whole beautiful.” ~ Terri St. Cloud

That line is essentially how I feel about my life summed up in one sentence. Like most of us, I had a less than perfect upbringing – in fact, I grew up in what I would call a pretty dysfunctional family (sorry to my parents if you’re reading this – I know you didn’t do it on purpose!). Of course it wasn’t all bad, but in general the dynamics in my family were pretty much a big hot mess. Maybe I’ll delve into details another time, but for now rest assured that while at first glance I may seem to be an all-American girl who grew up in a field of country flowers without a care in the world, I most certainly did not.

And like many of us, when I grew up, married, and had a family of my own – I repeated many of the same patterns, bringing the same mess into my adult life and passing it along to the next generation. In short, I married a younger, more Southern and less-educated version of my dad. Which, as with my formative years, wasn’t all bad, but it most certainly left a lot to be desired. So much that three babies and roughly a decade later, I ended the marriage – not only because I wanted to spend the rest of my life happy and sane, but also because I wanted to break the cycle of mess that would have been passed down to my children had I stayed in that relationship.

If you’ve read or even just skimmed this tiny little budding blog, you may have gleaned that my divorce ended up in an even more chaotic mess than most do. In fact, it was a total disaster which resulted in over two years of legal fights, multiple thousands of dollars and Euros being spent, and costing me a good three years of mine and the kids’ lives as well as the delicate skin around my eyes (I swear the crows feet I now have were not here pre-court drama). Yes, cycle-breaking has its price, and it ain’t cheap.

Now that the dust had settled on the past few years of chaos and as I approach that much-feared age 40, I’m reflecting on my life as a whole. And since making this year’s single resolution of wanting more happy days than sad, I’ve found myself more introspective than ever before in up to now. In fact, it’s safe to say I’ve never been introspective, as I am much more of a doer than a thinker, but these days I am. Thinking about where to go, what I want, who I am, and how to make my life – and the life surrounding my children – the best possible for the next however many years.

So how am I doing this? Good question! I’m still on the journey of course. I’m no beauty-happiness-successful liver-of-life expert, and I am certainly not one of the many mindfulness gurus out there. But having gone through what I’ve gone through the last few years has taught my a little bit about resilience and how to pick yourself back up after a fall.

I love a good list, so here you go:

  • Time Alone – you need time alone to rest and recharge on a regular basis. On a practical level, this means regular alone time – I spend a weekly evening out by myself (either at the sauna, shopping, or watching a movie). And with kids this takes planning and money (babysitter), but it is so worth it and a must to stay sane and happy. At a deeper level, ‘time alone’ for me personally right now also means a break from dating, so that I can regroup and focus on myself. Easy? Not really, because I love attention from men. Worth it and part of making my life beautiful? Absolutely!
  • Looking at Reality – getting REAL about where you are is important, especially if you want to move forward. It can be painful, but being honest with yourself about where you are emotionally, financially, professionally, and in any other way helps you see what is working and what is not. If you want to make life beautiful, you have to accept where you are currently so that you can appreciate how far you’ve come, enjoy the now, as well as look towards the future.
  • Cleaning House – Once you’ve taken off the rose-colored glasses and know where you are, it’s time to get to work. No one said making life grand was easy – and there can be blood, sweat and tears involved. In my life right now, I’m fixing my finances (AKA, paying off the last of the hefty court fees incurred during the 2+ years of custody court, increasing my monthly income and getting out of debt). I’m also getting fitter – running almost daily now so that I am physically and mentally strong after the last several months of lazy. So for me, cleaning house means shaping up the money side of my life and my body, for you cleaning house may mean something different. We know the areas we need to work on – and as challenging as it might be to get started, it’s worth the effort. My only word of caution is to take it easy – depending on the amount of “cleaning” required if your life, this might take time. Please do not beat yourself up if things aren’t fixed immediately. Beauty takes time!
  • Dreaming – We all know that you can’t live without hope. And I connect hope and faith with dreaming. But somehow the older and more beat-up by life we become, it’s easy to forget that dreaming is an essential part of living a great life. Or at least should be. Right? Of course right. Lately I’ve been digging deep to tap back into the dreams I had back when I was younger – yes, tapping back into my 20-year-old self to see what dreams I wanted back then that have come to life (some have!), and which are still there and should be resurrected. Of course, some dreams aren’t meant to be and that’s fine – but it’s important to at least ask yourself, what is it that you want to be, or do, or create? If you haven’t asked these questions in some time, do it!
  • Go easier on yourself (and others!) – I’m laid back on the outside – but those who know me well (my girlfriends, my children, my exes, my mom), know that I can be a control freak and more demanding than my calm exterior belies. The idea of self-love and self-compassion used to be foreign to me. I grew up in Protestant-land, where you worked hard, tried not to “sin,” served others, and essentially weren’t a good person unless you were a martyr. But love yourself? No – only self-centered heathens and maybe Catholics live that way. Really. But I recently read an article (or maybe saw a video, not sure of the source) saying that if Jesus urged us to “Love your neighbor as your yourself,” well – if you don’t love yourself, it’s pretty simple – you won’t be able to love others. The idea hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks, and I realised that if I don’t love and care for myself, there is NO WAY I can love the people in my life. Doesn’t matter if those people are my children, my neighbours, friends, or lovers – until I love me – they won’t benefit from knowing a woman who can love them well. (More on this in a book called The Gifts of Imperfection, for anyone interested – great read from a woman who has been there).
  • Bring beauty into daily life - There are a flowers (I now by them weekly and they adorn our table – tulips are currently in bloom), almost daily time at my favorite café (thankfully I live in Europe, the land of cafés, and I work from home so I can enjoy this little luxury). Regular time with my kids (no matter how busy we get we do dinner together almost every single night), and we have special weekend routines that bring so much joy. Beauty is of course many things to many people, so whatever beautiful things – or rituals – make you happy, by all means bring them into your life. Even if they might seem a tiny bit silly. That’s ok! My silly beautiful thing right now is a gorgeous ivory tulle skirt. It’s pretty much a tutu for grown-ups, and my pre-teen daughter makes fun of me for it, but tulle is not just for tiny ballerinas and Sex and the City characters, so once it’s warmer I will wear it. :)

So that’s it from me for the moment … I would LOVE to hear from others – how do you make life beautiful? Please tell us in the comments section below. Don’t be shy!

The Best Burgers in Berlin

Yellow Burger

Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good hamburger. Not like, but love. If I had to choose between a Michelin star restaurant serving haute cuisine and a really good burger joint, I’d more than likely choose the latter (although I would be happy to visit the former for dessert and wine after the burger!). It might be because I’m American and it is therefore in my blood to love the combination of juicy red meat, cheese, and bread, I don’t know. And I don’t really care. All I know is that while I’m not a huge carnivore who needs meat daily, I do function best with a good burger once a week.

Thankfully, you no longer have to be in the Land of the Free to get good a hamburger. Yes, some of the best America has to offer has expanded beyond it’s borders and even gotten better along the journey. In fact, the best burger I have ever tasted (and believe me, I’ve had more than a few!) was right here in Berlin.

Yes, you read that correctly. The best burgers I’ve had were in Berlin, at a place called Yellow Burger Manufaktur, or simply Yellow. Even after my three-month stint in the US to get my kids back, where I ate as many burgers as I could get my hands on (food is a pretty good distraction from stress), I cam back to Berlin and went straight to Yellow. I even told the guys that their burgers were better than the ones I’d had in the States – which was quite the compliment of course. They loved it, and I meant it.

But even though Yellow is my favorite, it isn’t the only place to get a good good burger in Berlin. One of the original and also one of the best, burger places is the now quite famous – at least to those familiar with the food scene in Berlin – Bird. The Bird has been around for some time, and although their burgers are served on English muffins instead of hamburger buns, they are still quite yummy. And greasy and filling – so be sure to go the Bird VERY hungry, or you might not be able to finish your meal. Also, be sure to reserve a table at The Bird, because it fills up quickly most nights and unless the weather is nice enough to wait outside with a drink, you’ll be sorry you didn’t get your name on a space.

The third burger place I count among my favourites here in Berlin is in Mitte - Tommi’s Burger Joint. It’s not one that lures me in as often as Yellow or The Bird, but if I’m in Mitte and hungry, I will swing by. This burger is a good one because they do something wonderful with the bun – I think it might be toasted with butter – so that with melted cheese and yummy beef makes for quite a good burger. The only drawback here is that their fries – unlike those at Yellow and The Bird (both of which are fresh cut and flavourful) – leave a bit to be desired. But the service is friendly and the burger good, so worth checking out!

Hello to a New Year – welcome 2016!

New Year 2016I love new things – new ideas, new places to see, new friends, new foods – new anything is generally well-accepted, as long as it’s something good. So of course I love a near year as well – the feeling of a new beginning and a fresh chance to make changes, .

Of course technically speaking, nothing magical actually happens as we switch from one calendar page to the next, but with the start of a new year comes the excitement and anticipation that you have a new opportunity to do or be something you haven’t yet dared – or managed to make happen. It’s also a time to reflect on where you’ve been, where you’re headed, and what changes you need to make to get there.

I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I think I was a teenager before I had even heard of the concept. Like everyone else, I come up with a few some years, but they are usually forgotten by February, or March if I’m really in a roll. I made a list last year and shared them with a friend, who did the same – then we both forgot about them (although interestingly enough, about half the resolutions did happen in the end).

But this year I did make a few resolutions, and I intend to – at least try! – to keep them. I won’t share the specifics here (sorry, some things have to stay private!), but they cover family, business and writing goals, relationships, and a push to pursue some of my bigger life dreams. To take some of the pressure of myself in case they don’t all become reality, I divided them into two lists – a “must do” and a “would be nice” list. The most important action items being on the first list, the others on the second.

The theme of these resolutions? Happiness. This year, I want to have more happy days than sad days. That’s it. 2015 was not the worst year of my life (that would be 2013, for obvious reasons), but it wasn’t the best either. Some great things happened, but it was a challenging year and with a bit of quiet reflection in the last days of December, it became clear that overall, there were quite a few more sad days than happy.

So the decisions and actions I’ll be making – and taking – this year will be connected to that simple wish of having more happy days this year than last. I’ll keep you posted on the progress! :)

 

 

 

 

How I keep a clean home when crazy busy – or crazy and busy!

clean house picture

I have very little free time, as I am sure most – if not all – of you reading this can relate to. Between raising my three children, working full-time, building my matchmaking business, and the rest of life (being a friend, a girlfriend, and also carving out time and space for “me” time) – there isn’t much space in the margin for anything else.

So maintaining a perfectly clean home? Doesn’t happen. One of these days I will hire a housekeeper to come in regularly and keep my home clean. But for now, while I’m what I call the single-mom-building-a-business budget – AKA, not a ton of extra cash – I can’t have it all. So for now I enjoy using the money I would spend on a cleaner on my café visits and on treats with the kids instead.

While I don’t keep my place Donna Reed spotless, I do keep it in pretty good shape. Only on rare occasions would you would find chaos ruling, with mounds of laundry on my bed or dirty dishes ruling the kitchen. That generally only happens when I’m sick and don’t have the energy to keep things up.

How do I do it? I keep a loosely structured, weekly cleaning schedule and tweak as needed. I also enlist the help of my children. They earn monthly pocket money through chores that are done weekly. Things like vacuuming the floors, Swiffering (no, we don’t mop), dusting, cleaning the bathroom, and window washing each have a price attached to them, and at the end of each month money is paid out based on the work that was done.

We keep all of this written down. It’s a must, because at any give moment my brain is likely in five different places, so remembering who did what and what they should be paid for it is impossible. A simple monthly chart lists the week, the job, the amount given per job, and a space for the initials of the person who did said job. At the end of each month we tally up who did what, and pocket money is then given according to the jobs completed.

I learn by doing, so it took months of trial and error to create a fair system resulting in a clean home and a happy mom and kids. But I am glad I did, because this works like a charm. No more fussing and whining about who does what or who gets paid what. It is all documented, and money is not paid by anything arbitrary like age or behaviour, but for the actual tasks done. It’s great and it works well for the bigger weekly jobs.

For smaller daily chores - such as setting and cleaning the table at meals, helping with laundry, taking out trash, etc, we have a simpler way. Each child has a job that is their responsibility for the week (or for several weeks, if everyone is happy and does not want to change jobs). And this is also attached to a reward – not cash, but our weekly Friday family movie and pizza night. And it also works.

This weekly cleaning and pizza “system” also took a bit for me to make work. Originally these daily tasks were not connected to an incentive. Which means my children got their movie night regardless of whether they’d helped out with family chores. So quite frequently, I was doing my work and theirs, and still paying for pizza and running to the movie store so that they had their fun family night.

Clearly, this did not work for very long, and tweaking was needed. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for initiating the change to a better way, because it was my BF who pointed out that things could be better. Of course I was offended by his observation (have I mentioned that I am highly allergic to anything that even hints at criticism? I am). But he was right.

When I finally recognised that I was rewarding my kids for working only when they felt like it, I made a change and passed the responsibility of making Friday night fun to the kids and contingent upon them getting their work done. And in the meantime, things work – the kids know what is expected of them and they generally do what should be done. And when they don’t – well, they get less cash and mom has more  cash for cappuccino.

And voila – it works! Clean (note that I didn’t say perfect) home, happy kids, peaceful mom. Of course, if I am sick one week or have a crazy busy work week, then I will let our work slide. And on rare occasion I will still call my awesome cleaning lady in for support. But in general, keeping a task-reward system and tracking what is done has saved my sanity – and ensures that we live in a comfortable apartment where chaos and mess are kept in check.

One of my favorite weekend get-aways: Vienna

Vienna Market

One of the benefits of living in Berlin is that traveling to other cities in Europe is easy and generally very inexpensive. You can get to most other European capitals within a couple of hours and for roughly a couple hundred Euros, so city trips are pretty doable (even more so if you have a boyfriend who flies you in for a weekend – ha!).

wine stand Vienna

Which brings us to Vienna, one of my favorite places to escape from the chaos of Berlin – and, let’s be real – the chaos of my life with three children. It’s a one hour flight away – meaning that you board your flight, have a drink and a snack, and by the time the flight attendants have cleared everything away you’ve already started your descent towards Vienna. Lovely, really – especially for a person like myself who no longer loves to fly as I once did.

Vienna building

This city is a bit like a fairytale land. It was an imperial city after all, part of the Hapsburg Empire. Within the city you have palaces, you have stately buildings and gorgeously manicured parts, and yes, you even have a square called “Ballhaus Platz,” as well as a ball-season (January and February every year) to match. And outside the city, you have a river and rolling hills covered in vineyards. You even have gemstone mines within an hour’s drive of the city. See? A fairytale land.

Ballhaus Platz

Vienna is also fun because it’s quite “southern” in nature: the people, the language, the climate, the culture. Those familiar with The South and the charm that comes along with that region will know what I mean. And it makes sense – geographically, Austria lies is in southwestern Europe (it’s officially part of central Europe, but look at the map – it’s south-ish). And its people reflect this – they have their own dialect of German that is, well … southern. Words get slurred together a bit and syllables tend to disappear. Not joking.

Forum fountain Vienna

Beyond the dialect – which I have a hard time understanding, as it’s not the German I am used to in Berlin – the attitude of the Austrians is also quite southern. I don’t know enough to make a judgement call and say they are a lazy folk, but I will say that things are generally more relaxed  than with their northern neighbors. There is also a stronger emphasis on friendliness and hospitality, which I appreciate, especially in contrast to the fairly rough Berliners.

Volksgarten Vienna

So if you are ever looking for me and can’t find me in Berlin, chances are I’m either somewhere near the Mediterranean (it’s been way too long since I’ve been in that part of the world, so it’s coming up soon) – or in the little gem that is Vienna.

Volksgarten Roses Vienna

 

Street food in West Berlin

Street food is all the rage in Berlin right now. I have mixed feelings about the street food trend. Often times is not much more than over-priced food that you can find anywhere. But sometimes you can find some really. GOOD. food and drinks, and a variety of choices you would have a hard time finding all in one place.

When the weather is good, you can find street food events in a few different corners of the city. In Prenzlauer Berg there is the Street Food auf Achse event happening weekly – until winter temporarily shuts it down. Here you can get some great eats – they have tasty sweet Macarons, Pulled Port (that looks like the real thing!), decent burgers, and my favorite – the Wiener Schnitzel Truck, which a sandwich made of Schnitzel and very delicious Austrian wines. And lucky for me, this place is about ten minutes away from our home, making it an easy place to pop by on Sunday evenings when I’m too busy – uh, or lazy – too cook.

But last week we ventured out a bit further to Charlottenburg – in the ritzier West – and went to the Bikini Berlin Street Food event. Which, I have to say, was nice – but not amazing. But it could have been that we went very un-hungry, as we’d had a massive dinner the night before and a decent sized German breakfast (complete with Nutella, of course!) right before.

In any case, it was nice to get out, and here are a few images from the day … enjoy!

Starbucks Zoo Station

Apparently my daughter and friend couldn’t start out the afternoon without a coffee and a chai latte from The Bucks … 
Talya Katy Zoo Station

I, on the other hand, held out for yummier coffee from one of the food trucks at the event. The smiles shows I was happy I did!
Gedächnis KircheThe Gedächtniskirche – the church that was bombed in WWII and never fully repaired and which is now one of the most popular symbols of West Berlin – and of survival and freedom – or something along those lines. Impressive building nonetheless, and my favorite theologian – Dietrich Bonhoeffer even spoke there.

Bite Club Bikini Berlin

On top of the world! Or on top of West Berlin – this is the roof of Bikini Berlin

The Pankow Kiezfest – Our Neighborhood Street Party

Pankow Kiezfest

Last week was the annual Kiezfest here in Pankow. It’s an event we look forward to each year, as it’s become a regular milestone that marks the end of summer and the move towards fall. It’s an afternoon and evening full of fun, with shops and vendors open selling everything from delicious eats to art work, toys, and other random niceness.

Pankow, our little corner of the former East Berlin, has grown quite a bit since we’ve been here, and so has the Kiez fest. What started out as a few local shops offering their wares and drinks on one part of the street has expanded to a full on street party with a stage and live entertainment lasting the entire day.

So what is a Kiezfest? In essence, it’s a big neighborhood party. Kiez is the very northern-German word for a small area within a city. A Kiez is not defined by any particular by official city districts or boundaries. One district can have several Kiezs, but each Kiez is distinctive, with its own flavor and style. The nice thing about the Kiez is that it breaks city life down into digestible chunks, giving the city a cozier town-like feel.

For me and my kiddos, this year’s Kiezfest started out with a sidewalk yard sale. My daughter spent the day shopping with her dad, so my two boys and their friend Lukas set up shop in front of our apartment building and sold items that they’d been putting aside for weeks. It was their chance to have a relatively captive audience – foot traffic heading to the festivities – so they spent a few hours selling some of their old toys and a few other random household items I’d been wanting to get rid of.

The boys did quite well, making a total of 22.50€ in the few hours they spent selling their goods and chatting with passersby. The most fun for me was seeing how proud they were to have their own money to take with them for the rest of the Kiez fest, which we went to after their sale. We had a lovely afternoon, complete with cotton candy, toys, balloons, and wine for yours truly (because it isn’t a Fest if you don’t have at least one drink, let’s be honest!).

Kiezfest Pankow balloons

boys eating cotton candy

Flora-Strasse-Kiezfest

Weinrebell

wine bottles Riesling

 

 

My favorite Berlin cafés

 

Few places on earth that are as lovely as a nice café. I can – and do – while away many an hour at a nice café. And yes, I could wax poetic about how charming the cafés are in Paris, how much I love drinking cappuccino in Italy in the summer when it’s almost too hot for coffee, or how you can almost skip the coffee at some places in Vienna, because if you order Sachertorte with fresh whipped cream, you won’t have room for a beverage with it. Yes, I do love a good café.

I’m quite sure that love began long before ever even stepped foot in one. Cafés have long since been gathering places for creatives and revolutionaries, both of which I am fond of. Think Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Parisian coffee shops. And cafés are a decidedly European thing, which of course added to my interest in them – I do love many things about this continent, and their appreciation for taking time to enjoy life includes centuries of coffee indulgence (yes, inhabitants of the Old World were sipping coffee and tea in cafés and coffeehouses long before we Americans had even wrangled independence from the British).

But back to the Berlin cafés I would like to tell you about – there are quite a few here in Berlin, but three are my favorites. Here they are:

Spreegold

Spreegold

Spreegold is, in a word, fantastic. You get good service almost all the time (which is not the norm for Berlin), excellent coffee, great food and wine, and lots of space to spread out and make yourself at home. Now that I work remotely, Spreegold is seeing a lot of me. The only drawback is the wi-fi which is slow some days, and the bees – which there seems to be hordes of – and they will attack you if you dare sit outside with anything that might like to sample. I highly recommend both the pancakes (covered in berry sauce) and the porridge with hot fruits (also covered in berry sauce). Delicious, filling breakfast items that will keep you full for a while.

Wo der Bär den Honig Holt

Wo der Bär den Honig Holt

Der Bär, my nickname for this cute little place, is right around the corner from my apartment, and how happy that does make me. It opened about two years ago, and was the third café to make its way to Flora Strasse, one of the nicer shop-lined streets in Pankow. The owners of Der Bär are one of the friendlies couples you will ever meet, and they’ve created a cozy little space offering yummy coffee, teas, homemade sodas (“Brause,” in German), and some excellent cakes. Their chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting (topped with a layer of chocolate ganache) is to die for – believe me. The only drawback here is that they are closed on Saturdays, which took some getting used to. But they are open on Sundays, making it a great place for a Sunday afternoon cake and coffee. The other catch? No wifi, so this is a place of enjoyment, not work.

Café Anna Blume

Cafe Anna Blume

Café Anna Blume is close Kollwitz Platz in Prenzlauer Berg, which is one of the prettiest little quiet corners of the city. Think broad streets lined with tall trees, bunting hanging from the windows, ice cream shops, florists, restaurants, and weekend markets, and that’s what you have in this little area. The café itself is also a flower shop and bakery,so you get beauty and sweets all around. Their cakes are freshly baked in-house and taste amazing, as do their many different coffee offerings. On my birthday or if I’m having a really bad day and needing happiness, I come here for Sachertorte – a semi-sweet Viennese cake and one of the best things you can eat this side of heaven) and coffee. And not just any coffee, but one flavoured with Cointreau (orange liqueur) and topped with whipped cream.

Anna Blume also serves a great breakfast you can order all day, but if you’re planning to brunch here on a weekend, be sure to reserve a table in advance. This place gets full fast. And I don’t think there is wi-fi, so don’t plan to work here. It’s too pretty a place to want to bother with work anyway, believe me.

 

Life in Berlin: The Wild West

Museum Island

One of the nicest spots in Berlin – Museum Island

“Paris is always Paris, but Berlin is never Berlin.” … someone semi-famous once said that, and how right he was. Berlin is the kind of place that is ever-evolving. It’s not the same city I moved to five years ago, and it’s nowhere near the city I remember on my first visit to Germany back in 1995. It is very much a living thing, with movement and change and life.

To me Berlin is little bit like a rebellious child trying to prove itself by showing off it’s wild and crazy side, bucking the system in any way possible. It’s the teenager who broke away from its controlling parents and is out partying all night, tattooing and piercing itself as a way to rebel against the years of freedomless existence. And rightfully so, as half the city was under lockdown for roughly 30 years, separated by a Wall and rules that limited both freedom of movement and expression. Considering this rough history, it makes perfect sense that the city is now known for being a creative hub and has become home to many new businesses, even being dubbed the Start-up capital of Europe. I call Berlin the Wild West of Europe, and I think it fits – it’s a bit frontier-like in that you can come here and start – or be – virtually anything you want.

And unlike the rest of the country, which is neat and clean, Berlin tends to be a bit more unruly, messy, and in some corners, downright dirty. So if you’re coming to Berlin and expecting impeccable order and neatness, you’ll have to actually look for it here. Of course there are areas of Berlin that are more traditionally “German.” The former western part of the city, areas such as Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, and Wannsee – still have the old world German charm – the lovely old buildings, little gardens and flower boxes hanging out of windows and off balconies, cleanliness, and a general air or structure and order.

Berlin’s wild and crazy side is I liked most about the city at first – well, after the initial culture shock resulting from a city very unlike the rest of the Germany I knew. I loved the air of freedom here and it’s relatively unstuffy feel. And the fact that you can wear what you want and no one will bat an eye. Compared to other European capitals, the city is extremely casual. You wouldn’t necessarily be able tell a successful start-up founder making loads of money from the guy dressed like a bum and waiting tables. You can go to many – if not most – clubs for a night of dancing in whatever you feel like wearing, even if it’s ratty jeans and a t-shirt. I love that.

But after five years and change of living here, I feel like this city and it’s casual grit are starting to wear me down. Wild and casual is fun for a while, but at some point you realize you want – or maybe even need – more. From what I am seen with others and experienced personally, Berlin is a big wide space that gives you freedom and space to grow. Or to grow up. It seems to be a playground of sorts, where many come to stay a while, either play, build a business, gain life or professional experience, and then leave before setting roots down to deeply.

The Wild West is fun and exciting for a while, but when you grow up you long for a bit more calm, and culture. At least I do. Streets lined with graffiti and wild plants growing every which way is a novelty for a while, but at some point, neat clean streets without dog droppings and advertisements of adult toys get old. I personally long for beauty – traditional, clean, organised beauty that are the result of order and hard work – of course creativity too, but creativity refined by a bit structure. Which is what you get places beyond Berlin and which is what I am ready for.

So that’s where I am. I’ve enjoyed a lot about Berlin. Learned a lot. Experienced more than I wanted or ever planned to. Cut my teeth. Grew up. Reached the goal of helping my children become bilingual. All of this I’m grateful for. But I’m ready to trade creative and messy for lovely and neat, Berliner “Schnauze” (Berlin slang/attitude) for politeness, six months of winter for a climate that’s a bit more friendly.

Yes, my time here might be winding down. And that’s ok!