Sunday, February 10, 2013

'Visions of Modernity' Temporary Exhibition

Yesterday we went over to the Deutsche Guggenheim gallery on Unter den Linden to check out the temporary exhibition, Visions of Modernity.

From Impressionism and Modernism this selection of art has been brought together from the Guggenheim Foundation Collections. It's been on since November but it's well worth a visit if you like modern art and the avante-guarde.

There is a nice selection of paintings form Van Gogh and PicassoCézanne and Kandinsky among others. 

Kandinski's 'Decisive Rose'
It's only on until the 17th of February so make sure you go this week to take a look.

4 per adult


Unter den Linden 13/15

Closest U-Bahn:
Französische Strasse (line 6) 

Monday, January 14, 2013

German Bureaucracy: The good and the bad

The first few weeks of 2013 have flown by in a whirl and I'm only just getting back into the swing of things after the Christmas holidays. A bad case of the winter flu delayed my return to work and led to me spending a week sweating, shivering and coughing in bed, lovely!

We also discovered that the paperwork we have for my husbands residence in Germany was actually incorrect so he had the joy of various unsuccessful trips to the "Ausländerbehörde" (Foreigners Office). 

I also became the sheepish owner of my first BVG transport fine as I got caught on the S-Bahn for not having a valid ticket :(      

In all, January 2013 has opened my eyes up to some of the good and the bad of German bureaucracy. I'm quite impatient to start my rant so let's get the bad out of the way first.

I've lived in Spain and suffered the disorganised and extremely unhelpful bureaucratic process there.  I've had so many disappointing and frustrating experiences so I don't think it can get much worse anywhere else. For a little insight into what it's like trying to get anything sorted in Spain, check out this great fictional short film which, although exaggerated for dramatic purposes, sums it up quite nicely! 

Bureaucracy is far better in Germany but there are still some loopholes and unnecessary processes that we've experienced. For example, in order for us to register as a resident (Anmeldebestätigung) we needed to show a contract for a house BUT in order to get a contract for a house we needed to show our Anmeldebestätigung form...humm. That was a tricky one to start off with back in April 2012.

Last year my husband was mistakenly given a form that said he was European and had the right to live and work in Germany. So, we spend months thinking we had everything sorted (we didn't find out because he was doing freelance work and didn't need any docs). We found out when confused immigration officers delayed us leaving Germany for a trip to England as they were holding his Mexican passport in one hand and the form in the other and pondering how it was possible. After a long wait and lots of phone calls, they told us we needed to get the correct papers and sent us on our way. To their credit they were very nice and apologised for making us wait whilst they sorted out the issue.

So, the beef I have with the Ausländerbehörde office is the unnecessary waiting around we had to do and the unclear instructions as to what you actually need to take with you. In fact, I'm quite disappointed with the general attitude of staff towards foreigners in all the official offices we've been to. Most people reluctantly speak English (even though most of them can) and you have to bully them into helping you. I understand the idea that you are in Germany so you should make an effort to speak German but they should give people a chance before passing judgement and putting up their barriers. Loose the attitude people!  

It is possible to book an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde but the earliest one you could book now is April 2013! The only other option is to arrive at the crack of dawn to line up, get a ticket and then wait hours to speak to someone. You'd think that in a country as organised as Germany, they would have a better system.

The first time hubbie went, it was closed (his fault as he didn't check the holiday schedule even after I warned him!). The second time, he arrived too late (even though he arrived early) and there were no more tickets left for that day! The third time was looking good. He got his ticket but was told that I had to be there as well to sign the forms. Luckily I was off work but unluckily I was shivering in bed with the flu!

So, I had to drag myself out of bed and head on over to meet him. I was so out of it and drugged up on flu medicine, that I didn't pay attention to the date. I was stopped by ticket checkers on the S-Bahn who informed me that my transport pass was two days out of date. No sympathy for my plague-like appearance, Bam there's your 40 Euro fine madam. Damn it!

The waiting room was not the nicest experience (no one wants to sit there for hours normally, let alone while you're running a fever). The worst thing of all was that when we eventually got to speak to someone they told us that we needed our marriage certificate translated! Aggghhhh. So we went home with our tail between our legs. What a waste of time!

A week later, armed with our translated certificate and all the other numerous forms we had been told to bring, we went back (woke up at 5am) and 6 hours later walked out of there with a permit number for an impressive 5 years, woo hoo (even though we only asked for two)! It only cost about 30 euros which is incredible considering that for two years in the UK he would need to pay over 800 pounds and for two years in Spain about 200 Euros. Success!

The experience that really impressed me about Germany though was my visit to the doctors. It was extremely easy and efficient. I felt like a celebrity in the posh doctors office that had fresh fruit and drinks as well as very comfy leather chairs in the designer waiting room. I didn't get chance to wait there though as not a moment after my bum touched the seat, I was called by the doctor who examined me and prescribed my medicine and the doctors note for work. I was in, out and back in bed within a hour. That's what you get when you have a functioning private healthcare system I suppose and not the grotty, plastic, over-crowded waiting rooms I'm used to.    


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