Friday, November 23, 2012

Berlin Architecture in Photos

We've done a lot of wandering around the streets of Berlin in the last 7 months and along the way we've taken quite a few photos of the buildings around town. There are loads of interesting buildings dotted around the city and we've enjoyed just wandering around and discovering new places. Here is a collection of a few of our favourite architectural photos we've collected over the last few months.

Heilig Kreuz Kirche (Holy Cross Church) kreuzberg

A beautiful promenade of houses in central Berlin

An interesting residential building in Kreuzberg

Otto Bock Science Center near Potsdamer Platz

The Nhow Hotel on the river Spree

The Kino International on Karl-Marx-Allee

The Humbolt Box on Museum Island

Berlin  Dom Cathedral

The Berlin TV Tower

The Kanzleramts Building as seen from the Bundestag building

Box window design in Pankow

Curvy balconies in Prenzlauer Berg

A  beautiful façade in Prenzlauer Berg

The Southern Spree Riverfront

The Southern Spree Riverfront buildings

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mexican Dinner time! Tinga de Pollo

We've come across very few places to get good Mexican food in Berlin so far. There are so many Mexican restaurants, or should I say Mexican 'themed' restaurants as most of them are run by non-Mexicans, but very few of them are authentic and most of them disappoint with their bland, tex-mex style food. There is even an Indian-slash-Mexican restaurant in Rosenthaler Platz which although it sounds appealing (as a combination of two of my favourite styles of food) somehow it doesn't seem like it could work. So, the only way to get my fix for Mexican food is the make it at home.

A few weekends ago we decided it was time to make a Mexican dinner again and for me to try out making 'Tinga' (chicken with tomato and chipotle chiles). I've been dying to try it out even since my sister-in-law gave me the recipe when we visited Mexico back in February. So, we invited a couple of good friends over for dinner and went about preparations.

The finished 'Tinga' ready to serve
Tinga takes quite a while to prepare as you have to boil the chicken for at least an hour and then shred it (this can be a particularly arduous process if you are cooking for a big group of people) as well as slow-roast the tomatoes and then mix and chop all the other ingredients together the make the 'salsa'. So, we started out by going to the marvelously huge "Real" supermarket at Frankfurter Tor the afternoon of the dinner. We bought the rather overpriced but necessary tortillas (Tinga should be accompanied by maize as opposed to flour tortillas), the chicken thighs and the other 'Mexicany' spices and chillies needed.

The chicken thighs boiling away with garlic and some parsley we had left over
When we arrived back at home I got to work boiling the chicken. I had searched through my papers to find the rather tatty and (as I shortly found out) confusing notes that I had taken nearly a year ago in Mexico. At the time of taking the notes I was trying to follow the 'live demonstration' which was dictated to me in Spanish so my recipe notes had come out as a very messy mix of English and Spanish. My brain wasn't very good at translating and writing at the same time and couldn't decide which language to write in or indeed how to form a proper sentence in either one!

Can anyone make sense out of my recipe notes?
The Mexican cooking device called a 'comal' (kind of like a flat pan placed on the hob) is used for many things in the Mexican kitchen including heating up tortillas and roasting tomatoes for Tinga. So I got started with roasting the tomatoes and enjoyed using my comal for the first time (thanks Odila for giving it to me).

The Chicken boiling and the tomatoes roasting
After spending what felt like an eternity shredding the chicken, the next steps in making the sauce were fairy straight forward and fast as it was basically just a question of throwing it all a bowl and blending it all together.

Spices, garlic and red chillies ready to hit the blender

Pepper, Cumin and Cloves for the sauce
Blending it all together
All in all it took a good couple of hours to prepare but it was worth the effort and our guests seemed quite impressed with it too. It wasn't the same as my sister-in-law's authentic version but the main reason (apart from my terrible note taking abilities) was because we didn't have any proper chipotle and used a sauce flavoured as chipotle instead. If anyone knows where to get chipotle in Berlin, please let me know! It was definitely delicious though and tasted even better the next day as left-overs.

I've attached the recipe to this post too in case you dare follow my instructions and attempt to make this delicious dish. 

Tinga de Pollo

Here is my (very approximate) version of the Tinga recipe. I recommend you try making it yourself as it is very yummy but I can't be responsible for the outcome!

Serves four people (probably)
Cooking time - 2 hours (mas o menos)
n.b. - although the quantities of the ingredients looks like I know what I am talking about, all quantities are actually completely made up as I don't have a clue what ratio they should be in. So, experiment and see what happens! 


x4 Chicken thighs
x4 cloves of garlic (whole)
x6 medium tomatoes
x4 medium onions
a pinch or two of salt
a pinch or two of Black pepper
Chile Chipotle (canned)*
a splash of cold water
Vegetable oil
White pepper

To serve:

maize tortillas
fresh lime
creme fraise or sour cream

*We didn't actually have any Chipotle this time but we replaced it with Chipotle flavoured Tabasco sauce and a chopped up random red chilly we found in the supermarket which is obviously not the same but did the job well enough to make the dish edible and spicy!   

** If you don't have a comal you can always use a frying pan or roast them in the oven. 


  • Boil the chicken in a saucepan with a clove or two of garlic until cooked - at least 45 minutes on a medium to low heat. Remove from water and leave to cool. Once the chicken is cooled, shread it by hand into thin strips and set aside. 

  • Whilst the chicken is boiling, slow roast the tomatoes (whole) on a medium heat on a comal**. Don't add any oil or butter. Turn as needed to roast on all sides until browned - at least 45 minutes cooking time is needed. 

  • Chop the onions into fairly large strips and fry in oil on a medium low heat until transparent and a little browned. 

  • Fry the shredded chicken in vegetable oil and add a little white pepper. 

  • Prepare a blender with the salt, black pepper, chipotle, cloves, cumin and water. Add the roasted tomatoes and blend together until smooth. I have no idea what combination or quantities these spices are supposed to be mixed in as I didn't make any notes about that so you're on your own here. I suppose it depends on how spicy or sweet you like your food.  

  • Add the blended sauce to the onions and mix together. Then add the fried chicken and make sure it is all mixed together well. Leave to simmer. Actually I skipped this part of the instructions so just let it simmer until you get hungry or bored and then serve.  

To serve, put a spoon of Tinga on a heated tortilla, add a squeeze of lime and a spoon of creme fraise, fold or roll the tortilla and eat. The best way to eat a taco of Tinga is with your hands, you might experience an explosion of Tinga everywhere (there really is a trick to being able to eat tacos without having to shower afterwards) but using knives and forks is CHEATING!

If you do decide (or dare) to try following my recipe please let me know how it turns out. If it is a disaster, you can always call a pizza or get one of the many yummy Berlin kebabs instead!  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Autumn in Berlin

The weather really started to change as soon as October came. It was as if someone knocked the 'summer is over' switch and bam! There was a week of really chilly weather early October and I remember thinking to myself that we're gonna have a cold winter. Our first autumn in Berlin however, has turned out to be rather pleasant. There have been a few rainy days and a couple of cold windy moments but we can't really complain because the sun has been shining most of the time.

Being English, I grew up in a similar climate to Berlin so it's not much of a surprise that I am coping with the cooler weather. I've got my thermals on stand-by for the pending freezing winters though and I hope it isn't as harsh as last winter apparently was (I was busy enjoying Mexico at the time). Whilst we wait for the temperature to drop however, I thought I would share some of the lovely autumn photos we've taken around the city (I can't take credit for the majority, they were mainly taken by my 'padawan').  

Autumn leaves on the ground

In fact, both my 'padawan' and I much prefer cooler weather and I suffer quite a lot in the heat. It's kind of ironic the fact that I chose to live in Madrid for 6 years previously. I didn't particularly go there for the sun and I really suffered through the summers in Madrid. Of course, living in a sunny and dry country has a lot of benefits and even in the winter the Madrid skys are still bright blue. But, I'm seeing the same kind of weather here in Berlin right now, albeit a few degrees cooler than it would be in Madrid.

View from our window
As I'm looking out the window from my cosy and warm flat, it looks like a splendid day with bright baby-blue skies and rich sunlight hitting the houses and trees in front. In fact, over the last few months we've been taking photos around the city and capturing the autumn as it takes hold of the city. 

A quick note about the photos: I started 'training' my husband to take better photos a few months ago because he used to take a zillion photos of everything and it would always take double the amount of time to do anything. Every two minutes he would stop, take out the camera, and proceed to snap four or five photos of the same (any)thing, from the same angle and with the same composition. So, I decided to try to help him improve his technique and gave him a crash course in 'how to take usable photos' (and mainly 'how not to waste so much of your wife's time'). Over the last few months I must say that he has become quite an artistic beast with the lens. He still wastes my time (don't they all?) but now at least he gets some decent and varied shots. Thanks baby! 

We hope you enjoy the photos!

An 'Autumny' Bundestag
Getting arty with the angles near Eberswalder Strasse

Autumn at the canal in Alt-Treptow

Autumn at the canal in Alt-Treptow

Beautiful ivy near Eberswalder Strasse

The Kultur Brauerei (A Berlin Brewery and a museum and cultural space)

A church in Prenzlauer Berg

Colourful leaves

Yellow tree

Can you get more 'autumny' that this?

Gutenberg Printers in Prenzlauer Berg

A vintage shop in Prenzlauer Berg

Autumn with the Alexanderplatz tower

It's chilly but with blue skies in Pankow

Turning trees

More from the Kultur Brauerei complex

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My review of the 3rd Lakino Film Festival, Berlin, October 2012

Lakino @ Babylon Cinema, Berlin

Back in October we went to the Lakino (Latin American) film festival at Babylon Cinema in Rosa-Luxemburg Platz, Berlin. We visited on the opening night, Friday, and watched a series of six really great Latin short films. The winner of the entire competition turned out to be one of the ones we watched, "Tela" by Carlos Nader from Brazil. The quality of the short films was very high and I thoroughly enjoyed watching all of them. It was very difficult to choose the best film as they all had different styles and interesting concept to get you engaged and thinking.

"Tela" by Carlos Nader, Brazil
The winner, “Tela” by Carlos Nader from Brazil, was actually my favourite film out of the ones we saw so I am glad that it won. It used a circular motif and played on the idea of a self-reflective and self-aware audience. The entire film is focused on a cinema audience watching a film of a cinema audience watching a film! So, you couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable as you sat there in the audience, watching an audience, watching an...well you can work it out for yourself! It takes a while to get your head around the concept, but this for me, was one of the most ‘intelligent’ films in the screening. 

"Los Retratos" by Ivan D Gaonawer, Columbia
There were two other films that stood out for me. The first one was Colombian film “Los Retratos” by Ivan D Gaonawer and many of the people I talked to after the screening thought this one was the best. I can see why because it had a wonderful ‘feel-good’ appeal. “Los Retratos” tells the story of a delightful elderly couple from a small village who ‘win’ a polaroid camera at the local market. Rather than buying the chicken they were hoping to have for lunch, the old lady comes home with her new and unexpected prize. The only problem is that neither of them have any idea what it is for!  

The characters were instantly lovable and you felt for their plight as they were struggling to survive daily life in a small mountain village. Rather than making us feel sorry for the poverty-stricken couple though, the movie takes a swing for the light-hearted and subtle comedic side as, once their ‘wealthy’ neighbour shows them how to take photos with the device, they embark on an adventure to capture themselves in the photos. For a short happy time, their hunger is suppressed. 

"Salón Royale" by Sabrina Campos, Argentina

The second film that sticks in my mind was the “Salón Royale” by Sabrina Campos from Argentina. The whole film takes place in a car with a group of girls heading to and from an event. Pretty much anyone can relate to at least one of the characters as someone accidentally lets it slip that an ex-boyfriend of one of the other passengers will be there with his new girlfriend. The girl in question tries to keep it cool and pretend that she is not bothered at all and the two friends try to support her whilst getting more and more frustrated by her constant ramblings and return to the topic. 

The Foyer of Babylon Cinema
The other three films we saw were great too and had their appeal but for me these were my favourite. Compared to the lovable elderly couple, the ranting and ironic girl-chat and the self-aware movie audience, it was tough to beat. 

Some traditional pieces on display in the foyer

Entrance for the festival was 7 euros and it was well worth the ticket. There was also a small but interesting exhibition in the foyer of some traditional ceramics, wares and figures from Latin America. The only complaint about the event that I had was that our seats were not the actual cinema seats. We had to sit in normal chairs which had been put along the back wall of the balcony (in order to fit more people in) so my view of the screen a little bit blocked by the people in the ‘real’ seats in front. At least I wasn't one of the people who had to stand throughout! 

One of the great things I love about living in Berlin is that pretty much every week there is some kind of festival or cultural event going on. I’ve never been at a loss for things to do in my spare time.   

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bike of the Week: Number 24

Technically this weeks winner...

Mirrors or Mirage?

...ARE "BikeS of the Week"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Explorer Berlin is back!

Ok, so it's been a good month and a bit since we've been actively writing entries on our blog, sorry about that! It's not that nothing worth writing about has happened to us, in fact a LOT has happened in the last few months and I literally found myself without any free time at all!

Not that it is a bad thing, our life in Berlin has been slowly coming together but we've had to work hard for it. I found a full time job fairly unexpectedly at the end of August and at the same time I was asked to do some freelance projects. Throughout the months of September and October I've been working none-stop during the day as well as every evening and every weekend in order to get things done. 

Things have finally slowed down and so I'm taking the opportunity to catch up with some posting. So here is a short review of what Explorer Berlin has been up to over September and October.  

My dinner at my cousins very pink wedding.
Time to dig in to my birthday cake!
In September I celebrated my birthday (quietly) and a few days later our lovely 'food exchange' friends invited us over for yet another fantastic dinner. This time it was a goulash and a surprise birthday cake for me which had more calories than Willy Wonker's factory! It was a typical German cake called a "Danube Wave" or Donauwellen, so called for it different layers and the wavy decoration on top. It...was...incredible! Thank you Lisa! Still on a food note, we also celebrated Mexican Independence Day (the 16th September) at the tiny Mexican restaurant, "Tacos de Mexico", in Schöneberg. 

Some of the decoration in 'Tacos de Mexico'
The restaurant had been decorated and the tables and chairs placed around the walls to help with the party vibe. In typical colourful Mexican style the restaurant attracted a group of expat Mexicans who have obviously been living in Berlin a long time. It felt a little like a private party that we gatecrashed so we felt a bit excluded from the main group. The delicious 'pozole' soup made up for it though. My Michelada however (a beer prepared with spicy stuff and lime or lemon juice)  was pretty disappointing. The highlight of the evening was some traditional dancing from three ladies wearing traditional dresses.    

A delicious Mexican 'pozole' (po-sol-ey) soup on Mexican Independence Day
During September we we went back to the UK for my cousins wedding and also had two separate visits from friends. Having people visit is always a good excuse to catch the touristy side of Berlin so we did two trips to the Bundestag, a Sunday in Mauerpark (the weather was still very summery), a good old wander around the main attractions and lots of beer drinking! We ate a lot of pretzels, a fair few hotdogs and downed a ridiculous amount of beer and it also gave me an opportunity to escape from work for a bit. 
We stopped for a cheesy pretzel at the Brandenburg Gate
We have been sharing a house with a very nice German couple since August. They are from the north east of Germany so they grew up in the GDR. It's really interesting learning about what life was like for them as children. They are great to live with but the highlight has to be the constant supply of home-made jam!

A jar of home-made pear jam
Throughout September and October crates and crates of new fruit kept appearing in the kitchen (their family has an orchard with apples, pears and plums) in what seemed like an endless supply. Our housemate worked his magic week after week creating jars and jars of delicious pear, apple and plum jam as well as an amazing pear cake and pear strudel. It is refreshing to see that people still make home-made fresh jams and juices and we're just glad we live with someone who takes the time to make and share them! Thanks guys!  I'll be writing more on the jam making process in an upcoming post.  

In October we went to see some short films at the Latina American Film Festival, LaKino, which I will review shortly on Explorer Berlin. We also enjoyed seeing the weather turn from summer to autumn in Berlin. It was a very beautiful month to just walk around the city and we got some great shots of Berlin in autumn. 

The Bundestag in autumn
Hopefully we'll be posting on a more regular schedule and keeping you up to date with our explorations around Berlin!