Autumn Colours in Berlin

Autumn Foliage at Gemeindepark Lankwitz in Berlin

There is something magical about autumn in Berlin.  Pushing aside all thoughts of a hangover after the first Schmankerl-Hüttn of the year in order to take advantage of the sunshine and unseasonably warm Berlin weather we headed for Gemeindepark Lankwitz yesterday.

The sun brought out the best in the autumn foliage and having picked the park at random from a Google Maps search we were pleasantly surprised to find deer, goats, sheep and ducks there.

Stag at Gemeindepark Lankwitz in Berlin Doe a Deer at Gemeindepark Lankwitz in Berlin Duck at Gemeindepark Lankwitz in Berlin Squirrel at Gemeindepark Lankwitz in Berlin War Memorial at Gemeindepark Lankwitz in Berlin War Memorial in Gemeindepark Lankwitz in Berlin Steffi and Dave Gemeindepark Lankwitz in Berlin

Autumn Colours at Gemeindepark Lankwitz in Berlin

As we have enjoyed a hot and dry summer and mild, sunny and sometimes positively balmy autumn in Berlin so far this year I can only assume that the winter is going to be ridiculously cold to compensate.

Ohrwurm: Teenage Bottlerocket – Ich bin Ausländer

Teenage Bottlerocket - American Deutsch Bag EP Artwork

Photo: Teenage Bottlerocket – American Deutsch Bag EP Artwork

Anyone learning German will at some point have used a variation on the lyrics of my current Ohrwurm, Teenage Bottlerocket – Ich bin Ausländer.

Whether it’s at the bank attempting to set up that first Konto, the dreaded Anmeldung at the Bürgeramt or just chatting with friends, we’ve all had to point out our shortcomings when it comes to our understanding of Deutsch.

My personal stock phrase in these moments, to the amusement of some of my friends, is ‘Es tut mir leid, mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut’.

This isn’t of course an experience exclusive to those learning German.  Anyone attempting to take their classroom or book knowledge of a new language to the next level and attempt a practical application of their skills will have been in a similar position.

That moment of utter confusion with a mixture of embarrassment and abject terror thrown in when you realise you no longer have any idea what the person in front of you is saying and you’ll have to let them know.

It all started well enough but then there was a word or two you didn’t understand.  Then while you were trying to work out what these elusive words were you missed the next ten or twenty.  You start practising the phrase you’ll use to interrupt them and now it seems that all that is coming out of the mouth of the person you are speaking to is a jumble of vowels and consonants.

And it seems American punk band Teenage Bottlerocket had some difficulties with language during their 2013 European tour as they released Ich bin Ausländer as part of their American Deutsch Bag EP.

Teenage Bottlerocket – Ich bin Ausländer

For those who don’t understand German, the English translation of the songs lyrics is:

I’m a foreigner and don’t speak German well.
I’m a foreigner and don’t speak German well.
Slowly please, slowly please
Speak slowly please
I’m a foreigner and don’t speak German well.

A quick google search of the title brings up what is presumably the original version from Uwe Kind.

It would seem that this is part of a language learning tool called Eine kleine Deutschmusik from a company called Lingotech but it comes across as a 1980s TV comedy sketch.

Uwe Kind – Ich bin Ausländer

Sunday Documentary: Clive James – Postcard from Berlin

Australian comedian and broadcaster Clive James was a darling of British television in the 1980s and early 1990s.  As part of his Postcard From… series, James visited Berlin in 1995 and produced the documentary, Postcard from Berlin.

It’s interesting to see how much some of the places shown have changed in the last 20 years.  For instance, the area around the Führer Bunker was then a wasteland – unrecognisable as the site of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

However, some things don’t change – there are still cranes everywhere.

Clive James – Postcard from Berlin

Shepard Fairey – Obey the Giant in Berlin

Elephant - Street Art by Shepard Fairey (Obey the Giant) in Berlin

One of the most recognisable names in Street Art, Shepard Fairey, has been in Berlin painting a large-scale mural for Urban Nation as well as leaving some of his iconic Obey the Giant images and other posters and stickers around town.

If you think you haven’t seen his work, think again.  Do you remember that Obama ‘Hope’ picture used during the 2008 presidential campaign?  Well, that was Shepard Fairey.

Fairey is no stranger to Berlin and on his Obey Giant website refers to his time in the city for Backjumps in 2003.

Make Art Not War - Street Art by Shepard Fairey (Obey the Giant) in Berlin

The Make Art Not War mural in Kreuzberg was organised by Urban Nation, who have been bringing lots of artists to Berlin, including Ben Eine, Fin Dac and Nick Walker, who have all painted near their office on Bülowstrasse.

Make Art Not War was completed by Fairey and his team in two days and faces another excellent large-scale piece by Danish artist Don John.

Shepard Fairey’s Street Art career started when he was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design when he created his Andre the Giant Has a Posse sticker campaign.  This sticker was previously featured in my Berlin Street Art Vol 8 – Various Artists post.

André The Giant Has A Posse Sticker - Street Art by Shepard Fairey in Berlin

The story of the origins of the Andre the Giant image and Fairey’s exploits is told in OBEY THE GIANT – The Shepard Fairey Story a film by Julian Marshall, his thesis film, whilst at the same Rhode Island School of Design and funded partly by a Kickstarter campaign.

OBEY THE GIANT – The Shepard Fairey Story

From those humble beginnings a global brand has grown, Andre the Giant morphed into Obey the Giant and spawned a clothing label.  Further artwork followed.

Andre the Giant - Street Art by Shepard Fairey (Obey the Giant) in Berlin Obey the Giant - Street Art by Shepard Fairey in Berlin Obey V-sign - Street Art by Shepard Fairey (Obey the Giant) in Berlin

Berlin-lovers might like this Berlin Tower print, unfortunately now sold out.

Berlin Tower - print by Shepard Fairey

Photo: Berlin Tower – print by Shepard Fairey from

The good news is that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Shepard Fairey in Berlin, as he states on his website that he will be back for more projects with Urban Nation, until then, you can follow Fairey and Obey the Giant on Twitter and Facebook.

Bearpit Karaoke – Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark

Sean from Poland sings at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Sean from Poland sings House of the Rising Sun at Bearpit Karaoke

Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark or Bearpit Karaoke as it is commonly known has grown from an innovative busking idea into an internationally known regular entertainment event and Berlin guidebook staple.

Joe Hatchiban at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Joe Hatchiban at Bearpit Karaoke

It all started in 2009 when Joe Hatchiban (real name Gareth Lennon) rode around Berlin with some friends and a Karaoke machine.  One of the places they stopped was Mauerpark and the Bearpit Karaoke was born.

Rest assured the name Bearpit Karaoake isn’t a reference to the ferocity of the crowd but rather the stone amphitheatre in the former death strip at Mauerpark that hosts it.  In fact the crowd will always find some reason, whether it is a note perfect performance or an enthusiastic but tone deaf rendition, or maybe the singer’s obvious enthusiasm or shyness, to give very vocal support to those with the balls to perform.

For the thousands of people, tourists and Berliners alike, drawn to the regular Sunday flea market, Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, across the park, the Karaoke provides entertainment and a respite from the haggling hordes.

The crowd at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

If you’re lucky enough to find a spot on the steps of a sunny Sunday, you can rest your feet and enjoy a cold beer, whilst a parade of plucky would-be entertainers takes to the stage to belt out their favourite songs.

Irena from Italy sings at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Irena from Italy sings at Bearpit Karaoke

A singer at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

A singer performs Wish You Were Here at Bearpit Karaoke

Diana from Chicago sings at Bearpit Karaoke

Diana from Chicago sings at Bearpit Karaoke

On an unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday in the last weekend in September Steffi and I joined the gathered crowd and spent an hour or two enjoying the show.

Berlin Bearpit Karaoke – Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark

This being Berlin, sooner or later one of the local nut jobs gets on the stage looking for some attention, not wanting to sing but rather to detract from those people who have been patiently waiting their turn.

Joe, though, has seen it all before and finds a way to bring the attention back to the singers.  In fact, his rapport with those who put themselves out there is one of the charms of the event. Each, is introduced by name with a little info about where they’re from and what they are doing in Berlin.

The Sonntags Karaoke in Mauerpark is funded by donations and so Joe walks around the crowd from time to time with a tin collecting money.  There have been some difficulties in the past due to the availability of permits and increasing costs so it’s important that you give a little something if you enjoy the show and want it to continue.

There are a few enterprising individuals who have spotted the opportunity to make a few Euros from such a captive audience.  A couple of guys walk around the Bearpit selling beer – all I can say is that they must have ridiculously strong arms to carry the crates around for hours like they do.

Another set of enterprising Berliners collect the empty bottles to cash in for the Pfand – for those not familiar with the German system an 8c deposit is paid on each beer bottle to encourage recycling.

The added bonus of this is that one of the council’s potential issues with the continuation of the Karaoke is a perceived rubbish problem.  This along with Joe’s constant encouragement to the crowd to take any other items away with them ensures the area is kept relatively tidy.

A performer at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Weather and permits allowing, Joe Hatchiban is at the Mauerpark with his Karaoke machine Sundays from 15:00 but best to check the Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark Facebook page to avoid a wasted trip.  Bearpit Karaoke really is a uniquely Berlin thing (as far as I’m aware) so whether you’re visiting the city for a weekend or are a permanent resident it is something you should experience at least once – whether you should sing or not, well that is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Tag der Deutschen Einheit (The Day of German Unity)

Die Wölbung der Hände (La voûte des mains in the original French) at the former inner German border near Helmstedt

3 October 2014 marks the 24th anniversary of the re-unification of Germany, celebrated each year with a public holiday for Tag der Deutschen Einheit (The Day of German Unity).

Ask any non-German when the country was reunified and they will probably tell you 1989.  The images beamed around the world on 9 November 1989 of cars queuing at border crossing points and Germans celebrating on top of or attacking the wall with pick-axes are burned into the memories of many but East Germany didn’t cease to exist overnight.

There were of course many bureaucratic and organisational differences between East and West Germany – the two countries didn’t only have opposing political ideologies.  Preparations for the reunification of the country took some time so it wasn’t until 3 October 1990 that Germany was made whole again.

Die Wölbung der Hände (La voûte des mains in the original French) at the former inner German border near Helmstedt Former Inner German Border (Ehemalige innerdeutsche Grenze) SignErected at the site of the former inner German border at Helmstedt, the statue Die Wölbung der Hände (The Curvature of the Hands) or La voûte des mains, the title given to the piece by its creator José Castell, is one of the ways the German people have commemorated this important day.

Recognising the significance of the date, entry to the wonderful Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) is free on 3 October.

Reunification has on the whole been very successful and Germany is once more the economic powerhouse of Europe but even after 24 years there are still some obvious differences between the former East and West.

This graphic representation from Berliner Zeitung of the 2013 German Parliamentary Election (Bundestagswahl 2013) results in Berlin shows there are still political differences.

German Parliamentary Elections 2013 (Bundestagswahl) Results Map

Photo: B.Z.-Grafik

Commander Chris Hadfield, looking down on Berlin from the International Space Station observed the differences in the street lights between East and West – the yellow glow in the East is produced by Sodium-vapour lamps, the white in the West from mainly Fluorescent bulbs.

The East West Divide in Berlin Lights As Seen From the International Space Station

Photo: Commander Chris Hadfield

And it would seem that Ronny was a much more popular name in the East, as this illustration of the frequency of the name in every 10,000 Facebook users shows.

German Facebook Users Named Ronny

Photo: Zeit Online

There are plenty more interesting (and sometimes amusing) differences (auf Deutsch) in the article Das Geteilte Land on Zeit Online.

The official celebrations of Tag der Deutchen Einheit in Berlin centre around the Brandenburg Gate but perhaps more appropriately people all over the city will be enjoying the public holiday in their own way, celebrating their day of freedom from work.

Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap – Cult Favourite Döner in Berlin

Close up of Hähnchen Gemüse Döner at Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap in Berlin

Emerging from the U-Bahn station on the west side of Mehringdamm in Berlin Kreuzberg, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was the first day of the sales or that a famous celebrity is signing autographs but the long line of people you see are queuing for a Döner at Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap.

The queue at Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap in Berlin

Strolling down almost any street in the German capital you’ll find a handful of options for Berlin’s most popular snack options the Currywurst and the Döner Kebap.  Mustafa’s has been a cult favourite since it started selling a twist on the traditional kebab made with chicken and roasted vegetables.

Mustafa’s has appeared in numerous Berlin guide books and newspaper articles that guarantee it a steady stream of tourist trade to add to the local interest.

If that wasn’t enough, the guys made an advert.

All this adds up to spectacularly long queues.

Just walking along the pavement on Mehringdamm is difficult at times because the queues from Mustafa’s and another local legend Curry 36 often meet each other.

It’s not unusual to have to queue for 30 minutes or more.

The queue at Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap in Berlin The queue at Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap in Berlin

The big question: is it worth the wait?

I have to say that I’m a big fan of the Hähnchen Döner mit Gemüse (Chicken doner with vegetables).

As is the norm, there is a choice of three sauces: Kräuter (herb), Knoblauch (garlic), Scharf (spicy) and the usual array of salad.

For me though, it’s the finishing touches that make the kebabs here special.

The serving window Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap in Berlin

Firstly, shortly before serving a mystery liquid (Mustafa’s secret ingredient) is squeezed onto the meat and vegetables.

Hähnchen Gemüse Döner at Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap in Berlin

Then, the pièce de résistance a crumbling of Feta cheese and a squeeze of juice straight from the lemon add a freshness that elevates the Gemüse Kebap above the average Döner.

Whether it is worth standing in the queue for upwards of half an hour to get your hands on one really depends on how busy you are and what else you could be doing with your time.

The obvious question when confronted with such a popular spot is why there aren’t branches in every corner of Berlin.  There were outposts under Eberswalder Straße U-Bahnhof and on Oranienburger Straße near Hackescher Markt in 2012 but neither lasted unfortunately.

Other shops and stalls have popped up all over Berlin selling Gemüse Döner though so there are alternatives if you can’t face, or don’t have time, for the queues – I would recommend K’UPS Gemüse Kebap on Kastanianallee.

With so much hype surrounding a kebab shop it would be easy to write Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap off as a Berlin tourist trap but the truth is that the Döner here is something special – and they do say the best things in life are worth waiting for.

Tourist Information From Tina Berlina by El Bocho

Tina Berlina - 'Top Secret Info' - Street Art by El Bocho in Berlin

It was around the start of 2014 that I first noticed Tina Berlina, a new character from prolific Berlin Street Artist El Bocho.

Tina has been popping up on the streets of Berlin this year offering advice to tourists and giving German lessons.  Unfortunately, I’ve missed German Lesson 3.

Tina Berlina - 'Beware of Boring Areas': Street Art by El Bocho in Berlin Tina Berlina - 'Don't Believe The Dealer' - Street Art by El Bocho in Berlin Tina Berlina - 'Don't Go To The Oktoberfest' - Street Art by El Bocho in Berlin Tina Berlina - German Lesson 1 - Street Art by El Bocho in Berlin

Translation: Will I get into Watergate like this?

Tina Berlina - German Lesson 2 - Street Art by El Bocho in Berlin

Translation: Is there also something by Banksy here?

Tina Berlina - German Lesson 4 - Street Art by El Bocho in Berlin

Translation: I would like to buy the loft…please.

There’s lots of El Bocho Street Art from his Citizens and Little Lucy series elsewhere on andBerlin and here’s hoping that Tina Berlina keeps appearing on the walls of Berlin, offering her pearls of wisdom to the city’s many tourists.

Sunday Documentary: Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin

Jesse Owens lines up at the start of the 100m final at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin

Jesse Owens Returns To Berlin is a documentary written, directed and produced by Bud Greenspan and filmed during a visit to Berlin in 1964, which recounts Owens’ incredible achievements during the 1936 Olympics.

The rise of National Socialism in Germany and Hitler’s anti-semitic policies and advocation of the superiority of the Aryan race resulted in several calls for a boycott of the games.  Against this political backdrop, Jesse Owens’ haul of four gold medals is all the more significant.

For a black athlete to demonstrate clearly his superior athleticism and so convincingly outperform his white counterparts was a massive slap in the face for Hitler and made a mockery of his racist theories during his Nazi showpiece games.

Standing in the box at the Olympiastadion where Hitler sat to watch the games, Jesse Owens tells with pride that the flag of the US team was the only one not to be dipped as the athletes passed the Führer.  It may be my imagination but it seems that Hitler’s jaw twitches as he observes this act of defiance.

It was at 28:48 in this documentary that a legend was born.  Standing in the Olympiastadion with Luz Long’s son Kai, Owens tell the remarkable story (disputed like so many other great tales) of his father’s part in his victory in the Long Jump (then known as the Broad Jump).

Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin is a wonderful documentary that delivers on many levels: it is a fascinating account of sporting prowess, an important historical record and a tale of good beats evil, and for Berlin fans there is the added interest of seeing the Olympiastadion and Lustgarten as they looked during the 1936 Olympics.

Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin

Agni Indian Restaurant – Highly Recommended For Curry in Berlin

Murgh Tikka Curry Close Up at Agni Indian Restaurant in Berlin

Spicy, tasty and authentic aren’t words often associated with Indian food in Berlin.  Finding a genuinely decent curry in the German capital isn’t easy let alone an exceptional one so after my first meal at Agni in Moabit I walked out with a ‘curry high’ that lasted for days.

It is unlikely that I would have found Agni without a recommendation – it is mentioned in the ‘Berlin’s Best Curry Houses’ post on Slow Travel Berlin – as it’s a nondescript looking storefront on a less than glamorous Moabit street.

The heady aroma of spices coming from the kitchen may have clouded my mind because, despite having read about it in advance, I was still a little shocked at how small the restaurant is. Four tables for 2 face the open kitchen with a further table under the counter.  With seating for 10 people in total, it’s safe to say that this isn’t a place to take a large group, though meals are available to take away.

My first experience at Agni was overwhelmingly positive.  Steffi, Bine and I were all drawn to the Tandoor (Variation 2) section of the menu – dishes described as ‘laid in traditional marinades and cooked in the clay oven – served on a banana leaf with rice, bread and a sauce’.

Chennai Tikka Curry at Agni Indian Restaurant in Berlin Murgh Tikka Curry at Agni Indian Restaurant in Berlin Paneer Tikka Jahangiri at Agni Indian Restaurant in Berlin

I opted for the Chennai Tikka Curry (37), Steffi had Murgh Tikka Curry (36) and Bine went for the Paneer Tikka Jahangiri (45).

Having chosen my curry because of the Madras sauce (described on the menu as ‘scharf’) I was a little surprised to find that Steffi’s was spicier (on reflection this is on account of the relative spiciness of the marinades).

As we left the restaurant, Steffi voiced her approval in her usual way ‘Das war lecker’ (that was tasty), she said, followed shortly by ‘Ich bin so voll’ (I’m so full).  Bine and I agreed.

On my latest visit I decided to try one of the Thalis, a selection of dishes served with rice, bread and salad – a kind of Indian tapas if you like – a good way to work my way through the menu in as few visits as possible.

I had the Amish Thali (83), which allowed me to choose three different Lamb and Chicken specialities (this was marked as Niramish Thali on the menu in the restaurant but I believe that would be a vegetarian dish).

Amish Thali Tray at Agni Indian Restaurant in Berlin Amish Thali Components at Agni Indian Restaurant in Berlin

I chose the Dilli Murgh (59) – tradional North Indian chicken curry, the Murgh Palak (63) – chicken fillet in spinach sauce and Chennai Gosht Curry (66) – lamb curry South Indian style (spicy).

The Thali came on a silver tray and everything was absolutely delicious but the Chennai Gosht was the standout dish.

Over the course of five visits there have been some slight differences in the taste and look of some of the dishes I have had that suggests they are cooked on instinct rather than following a strict recipe.  However, the food has always been of a consistently high quality and has never failed to deliver when it comes to flavour.  On each of those visits a small complementary starter has come with the drinks.

Complementary Starter at Agni Indian Restaurant in Berlin Papadam at Agni Indian Restaurant in Berlin

I will be very pleasantly surprised if this isn’t the best curry in Berlin – a visiting friend, who spent his university years in Bradford, the curry capital of England, gave Agni his nod of approval and when it comes to Indian food in Berlin it won’t get much better than that.