Embracing Butter

Life …

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!

 

 

How I manage three kids, work, and me

Coffee and wine

“Wow, you’ve got your hands full! How do you do it?” If I had a dollar (or a Euro!) for every time I’ve heard that since becoming a mother to three children, I would be a wealthy woman. It seems that regardless of where you are in the Western world, it’s acceptable to have 1-2 kids and still manage to have a life beyond your children – be it a job, a business, hobbies, or whatever it is you do outside the home.

However, once you cross over into three-kid-territory, you should no longer be able to manage it all without superhuman powers. People begin to treat you with a strange combination of awe and curiosity – and you become something to both respect and fear at the same time. Strange dynamic, but it’s what I’ve experienced for years now – especially since moving to Germany, where three kids is considered a “groß Familie”(big family). And even more so since I made the move into single-parent land.

At first I thought three kids was would be fine fine, I like a good challenge and staying busy makes me happy too. I also grew up the oldest of eight (yes, 8!), and thought if my mom could handle that many, surely I could manage a fraction of her troop. But it didn’t take long to figure out that yes, raising three children is challenging. And a tiny bit insane, especially when it becomes a single parent gig and you find yourself doing it all on your own.

So how do I do it? To be brutally honest, some days I don’t. That’s right – some days my apartment is a chaotic mess, my kids run around like banshees screaming at each other and fighting, and I’m an exhausted heap of rattled nerves just trying to make it to bedtime. But luckily that’s only some days.

Other days it feels like one part of the work-kids-everything-else equation is off-balance. So the kids might be great, my apartment clean with everyone happy and well-fed, but I feel like my job and business are not where they should be. Or – work is going well, I’m putting time into writing and my little dating biz and feeling good about that side of life, but home/personal life is a bit chaotic. The work-life-balance so many talk about isn’t always attainable.

Most days though (especially when I’m not crazy stressed about a custody case), I feel like I have life under some level of control. A good friend once said being a single working parent with a full life is basically like juggling – you toss the balls one at a time, trying not to let them fall. And while it’s a challenging word picture – really, how many of us can juggle? It’s also accurate. There is a lot going on at any given time, but you learn to pace yourself – both catching and throwing on ball at a time.

So how do I manage it all? Well – I do my best to take life a day at a time – although as a future-minded person and dreamer that does not come naturally to me. I also have a strong support system – family, friends, and a great guy who help and encourage me to keep going even when it’s hard.

And for the rest – these are a few of the most important things for me to help manage the busyness of parenting, work and the rest of life:

  1. Naps - An absolute must. I’m generally a weekend napper – “Quiet time” on Sunday afternoons is a ritual and one of the few things in life I am very dogmatic and consistent in having. I do also sneak in the occasional tiny nap during the week as well – either on my lunch break (I work from home, remember) or evenings when the kids are play. Just 15-20 minutes of shut eye will help me recharge and have the patience and grace I need to get through the rest of the day. My kids know how much better I am with rest and gladly give me that time.
  2. To-do lists – I am nothing without my stack of post-it notes. I write down everything, from grocery lists to work tasks, to creative ideas, and even parenting reminders. If something is not out of my brain and on paper, the chances of it happening are slim to none. I’ve even added index cards to my post-its – the larger size and lined paper make the more complicated tasks – especially those for work or my creative projects – easier to break down into manageable line items to check off.
  3. Alone time – This is another way I recharge and keep energy levels high. I am a social creature by nature, but when you are constantly surrounded by three little ones – sometimes barely getting shower time alone without interruption – even the most social of us need a break. So I try to get at least one evening a week out of the home to get away by myself. I also do my best to get up before all three of the kids wake up (although it’s hard to beat my daughter, who is an early riser) so that the day starts in quiet. When all else fails and a big chunk of time alone is impossible – some weeks are just too demanding – I will sneak away for a few minutes on weekend afternoons to go grab a coffee at my favorite local café. Ten minutes and a cappuccino work wonders, believe me!
  4. Help/support - You can’t do it all on your own, so when friends or family offer to help – either by taking you out for coffee, bringing you food, or taking one or more of your kids out for an afternoon – you say yes. Every time. And when times are really busy and I’m not getting the support I need for free, I bring in paid reinforcements – either my babysitter so that I can get away for a bit, or my cleaning lady to save myself some time and energy.
  5. Not doing it all (myself) – As a bit of a neurotic Type A, I often feel as though I have to do everything and try my best do prove that I can. But this doesn’t work for the long-term, and reaching the point of burn-out the end of last year forced me to accept that I have limits I must respect to keep life running as smoothly as possible. Practically speaking, I’m learning to say no and let others do more, especially my kids. I’ve passed a lot of home chores over to my children that I had been doing – which both saves me energy and teaches them responsibility, which my previous efforts of “doing at all” had actually robbed them of. The result is a happier mom, more productive kids, and a more peaceful home.
  6. Keep things simple – This can be as challenging for me as #5, but it is important to keep life as simple as possible. When you have limited resources – energy, time, and money – and as a single parent the reality is that all three can be quite scarce at times – it’s really important to keep it simple. I do this by keeping meals and scheduled as simple as possible. Which means on weekdays I keep meals light and simple (which tend to save me both time and money), and I don’t have myself or the kids involved in many activities outside family, school and church. I tend to let each of my children gets to be involved in one activity at a time. So far this works and helps me keep sanity in check.

So there you have it – that is essentially how I manage to “do it all” and stay sane. Of course I forgot to mention the wine and coffee that are in the photo above (thanks Pinterest!), which are of course helpful as well!