Saturday, September 02, 2006

 

"Ich hab' noch einen Koffer in Berlin"

In one of the early episodes of this Telenovela (Hebrew for soap-opera - pronounced TELE-no-VELA) I call my life, I once lived in Germany for a few years. It was a long time ago and in those days there was the Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charlie and East Germany and West Germany - and never the twain shall meet. My then-husband was an officer in the American Army, and as he had a top-secret clearance we were not allowed to go to Berlin - "in case those rotten Communists picked us up and beat us until we divulged all the secrets we were supposed to have held". In all the years I lived in Germany I travelled all over the country - but never to Berlin.

So - I always dreamed of going to Berlin - right - don't you always want what you can't have? Finally, three weeks ago, the stars were in the right place in the heavens, there was room on the flight we wanted, my friend, Rosaline (who is my good travelling companion - more about her at another time), had a week off because her office was closed - and so we went to Berlin.

They say - whoever "they" are - that when you want something so much and look forward to it so much - that you are inevitably disappointed when you get it. Wrong! Berlin was fabulous. I can't now imagine what I thought Berlin was going to be like and look like - but it wasn't. Does that make sense? It doesn't look at all like the rest of Germany, the food is completely different, the people are different, they speak a beautiful and clear German (very unlike the terrible-sounding Schwaebish dialect we spoke in Stuttgart) and the city is absolutely elegant and very clean.

We stayed at a little boutique hotel off the Kurfurstendam - familarly known as the Ku-dam - a boulevard very much like the Champs Elysee in Paris - sidewalk cafes, restaurants, shops and people parading along day and night. The Germans have a very well developed "cafe culture" - do you know the kind of place I mean? - an inside, of course, but on the wide sidewalks little tables with chairs side-by-side so you can face the constant parade of people and watch the world go by. The cafe near our hotel was called "Dressners" - to my mind a perfect name for a perfect place. Don't ask why I thought the name was perfect - somehow it just fit. And we drank large glasses of very milky coffee which they called Latte - not a German name to be sure - but very much like the delicious "cafe hafuch" (literally upside-down coffee) which we have here. And most of the patrons were eating the most delicious pastries - always accompanied by "shlag" - whipped cream. I don't even like whipped cream - but I loved it there. Go know. And if they weren't eating pastries and shlag they were eating what seems to be a very popular nosh in Berlin - plates of "kartoffel ecke" (potato corners) little pieces of roasted - fried? - potatoes accompanied by sour cream. Now there's a nosh for you.

There isn't a typical Berliner cuisine - except for those kartoffel ecke and a kind of sausage called "curry wurst" which you eat on-the-go - on paper plates with plastic forks - don't ask. And of course, there is the famous pork knuckle served with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes and a portion of split pea puree. What knuckle - it looks like the whole leg hanging off the side of the plate. Those of you who have had the good fortune (!) to eat a meal with me know that I will eat almost anything that isn't tied down - fish heads (the eyes are the best part), brains, "beitzim" (bulls testicles if you must know) - that pork knuckle just doesn't do it for me.

Lest you be worried, however, Ros and I didn't starve. The Berliners serve wonderful Argentinian steaks - order it "English" (pronounced AYN-glish) if you want it very rare and that's what you get - just the way I like it. And good Chinese and good Italian and those lovely pastries and and and....

I will never understand their pricing though - Ros is not a wine drinker and I very definitely am - so at dinner I would order a glass of wine and Ros would order a Sprite or a ginger ale - and my wine - very good by the way - not plonk - cost less than her soft drink. She's still carrying on about it.

I started to write about Berlin - and went off on a tangent about food. How like me. I relate everything to food. Directions to someplace - where is it in relation to a restaurant? Have I been to a particular city - what did I eat there? So - next time I'll tell you about Berlin - probably with a little food-lore thrown in.

By the way - the title of this blog is the title of a famous song sung by Marlene Dietrich - it means "I still have a suitcase in Berliln" - wherever she is in the world a part of her is still in Berlin. I think I feel that way about Germany - strange, isn't it - but some very important and formative years of my life were spent there. That's where I "grew up" to be "me".

Stay Safe.

Rena





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