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A Few More Berlin Gems For A Lazy Day

It’s fair to say that I’ve written about Berlin at great length here on my blog.  It is truly a fascinating city, with SO much going on and so many different kinds of life being lived there – if you are curious to read more about my thoughts on the city and why I love it, please check out my post ‘5 Things I Love About Berlin’.  If you are heading to Berlin and are in need of some specific recommendations, I also wrote a trilogy of blog posts featuring my favourite ‘Restaurants’, ‘Drinks’, and ‘Attractions’ in the city, so feel free to explore those too!

The thing about Berlin is, every single time you go there, you uncover some new amazing place that you didn’t know about before!  The city is constantly evolving, new eateries, exhibitions and shops are springing up all the time and the city is so progressive, which is something that I love so much about it.  I recently had a free day to spend in Berlin, and I decided NOT to return to any of my old favourite haunts (where I would normally go), but instead chose to explore only new places that I hadn’t yet been to.  I found some real gems that you may not yet know about, as well as a couple of more well-trodden corners that you probably do, so I thought I would collect them all here in one post, for the next time you (or I!) might need some fresh suggestions for ways to spend a lazy free day in Berlin.

Bites To Eat

First off and most importantly: food.  Always a very difficult decision when in Berlin, because there is SO MUCH good food on pretty much every street.  I do have a couple of new recommendations for you though, and they are both incredible and must-gos.

For breakfast/brunch, I decided to try Commonground (a sister cafe to Silo, which I have also mentioned on my blog before and also an AMAZING brunch spot).  Commonground is a big open plan cafe – I happened to visit on a hot summers day, and they had all the front windows and doors wide open which was heavenly.  The food is ridiculously great; I had poached eggs on their unique Sironi bread, smashed avocado and salsa verde, and LOTS of bacon (by the way, there are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options!).  The coffee is also spot on.  I would say Commonground is perfect if you have a group of people, the staff are all SO friendly and the vibes are just great!

The Commonground breakfast!

Brunch at Commonground pretty much kept me going all day, until about 9pm, which is when I decided to grab some dinner at Cocolo Ramen.  I chose this place because I fancied some ramen and all the reviews online claimed that this was the BEST ramen in Berlin, so my expectations were pretty high.  Things to know about Cocolo Ramen before you go there: they take no reservations, and it is a tiny and extremely popular restaurant, so you have to be prepared to queue out the door for anywhere up to an hour (at popular times).  I would suggest going later, maybe around 10 or 11pm, and not to go in big groups – as I was by myself I actually got seated ahead of a lot of people which was a plus.  I have to say though, the ramen is totally worth it – it is delicious.  The kitchen is right out front, and if you can manage to bag a seat at the bar, you can watch them cooking which is fun.  The menu is pretty small – you can basically choose from about 4 or 5 different ramens (and a few other things on the menu), ranging in price up to about  €10 – and their turnover is fast, so don’t take too long over your food!  But the atmosphere is fabulous and this place is a real little gem!

I got the pork broth – delicious!

Coffee

If you are like me, then coffee is an absolute priority, and just spending an hour in a cute coffee shop is the perfect plan for a sunny afternoon!  Berlin offers some really fantastic and locally owned independent coffee jaunts – they are all over the city so please never, ever, feel like you have to rely on Starbucks for your pick-me-up!  This time, I tried a new coffee place, Ben Rahim.  It is absolutely tiny, and totally hidden away – if you didn’t know about it, I don’t think you would ever find it!  You sort of have to find your way through an alley and then a courtyard and then another alley and then you might spot it.  If the weather is good they put little tables and benches outside, and as it is so tucked away, it feels very peaceful and lovely to enjoy your coffee outside. (But there is also some seating indoors for the cold days too.)  Ben Rahim specialises in Arabian coffee and tea, and you can definitely also get your own preferred style of coffee there too.  As it was such a hot day when I visited, I decided to try their iced latte, and I thought how they made it was genius; they make the espresso shots in ice cubes and freeze them, and then add them to milk when one is ordered.  As you drink it the ice-cube melts and the coffee gets stronger as it slowly dissolves into the milk, which I just loved.  It was a beautiful coffee and I would love to go back there and try their other blends too.

My iced-latte at Ben Rahim

Independent and Vintage Shopping

Of course, Berlin has a large (and slightly tedious) shopping district.  But if you are more into cute little boutiques and vintage shops then I have a few suggestions for you!  For clothes, I would definitely recommend checking out Paul’s Boutique.  It is a little hole-in-the-wall style shop, full of second-hand and vintage clothes for men and women.  They have lots of cool brands and vintage style garments, including a selection of Doc. Martens and Levis.  Even if you don’t find something you like, or you aren’t particularly looking for anything, it is really fun to just look around and see what you can find.  If you are looking for a larger selection of second-hand and vintage clothes, check out Humana – there are actually a few of these stores around the city, and they tend to be pretty big.  Humana offers a wide variety of clothes and ‘stuff’, for men and women, at a range of different prices, from €2 to €200, so again, it’s just fun to see what you can find.  I have had a lot of luck there was things like concert clothes, jeans, shirts… it’s a cool store!

If you are a bookworm looking for some great deals on second-hand books in Berlin, definitely head to St. Georges English Bookshop.  There is a huge selection of all kinds of books here, from floor to ceiling (literally), mainly in English but also in a few other languages too.  From novels to cookbooks, books on Hitler and the war, religion, kids books… it is definitely a little nook to get lost in for a while!  They also sell some new books at regular prices too, and if you are looking for something in particular and are going to be in Berlin for a while, they will happily order it for you.

Attractions

If you fancy spending an afternoon at a museum or an evening at a concert in Berlin, I’ve got you covered.  Berlin is FULL of artistic events going on all the time; every single day there are literally 1000s to choose from.  I wrote a blog post recently on my experience visiting the ‘Wanderlust’ exhibition at the Alte Nationalgalerie (read it here!), and if you happen to be in Berlin until the 16th September 2018, definitely get yourself to that!  If not though, or if painting isn’t really up your street but you are interested in other mediums of art, Museum Island is a great place to start in Berlin.  It is a little island in the middle of the city, where all the big museums are located.  If you really want to throw yourself into art and culture you can purchase a day ticket which will allow you entry into all the museums in one day!  Otherwise, I can tell you that the Pergamon Museum (also mentioned previously on my blog!) which houses the Gates of Ishtar, amongst several other amazing things, is seriously awe-inspiring, incredible, mind-boggling and you HAVE to see it.  I mean, you get to actually see a whole Greek temple inside the museum.  It is awesome.

Alte Nationalgalerie, Museum Island, Berlin

If you are seeking a good concert to go to that is maybe a little removed from the mainstream concerts of the Philharmonie hall (which are nevertheless fantastic), check out the newest addition to Berlin’s concert hall scene, the Pierre Boulez Saal.  This hall, nicknamed the Oval Office of concert halls, is the result of a project initiated by Daniel Barenboim.  It is a smaller, more intimate chamber hall which is dedicated to hosting exciting and innovative concerts and music projects in Berlin, which don’t stay strictly true to old-fashioned style classical music concerts.  Keep an eye out for a blog post coming soon on the breath-taking concert that I was lucky enough to witness there when I visited (and which was the sole reason for this day that I got to spend in Berlin!).

Sneak peek of an upcoming post, telling you all about this unique and stunning concert that I saw at the Pierre Boulez Saal

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What I’ve Read So Far 2017

For me, the summer season is always a very active time in my reading life.  Whether it’s because reading is, in my opinion, the BEST accompaniment to travel, or something enjoyable that you can do outside whilst enjoying the beautiful weather, or just because you might have some free time on your hands to simply be able to read – I always find that I reach for my book much more during the summer months.

In lieu of this, over the past couple of weeks I have been endlessly browsing the internet for some potential reads to fill my summer days and I have discovered that personal recommendations written by real people with real opinions make a book much more irresistible (or not) to me.  In case any of you feel the same way, I thought I would put a selection of the books that I have read and enjoyed so far this year into a blog post, so that you might be able to take your own reading inspiration from it!  Enjoy!

 

The Secret History

-Donna Tartt

This book is categorised as a psychological thriller, but I found that it also contained so many Romantic elements!  It tells the story of a group of young, eccentric students, living and studying in New England and wishing to break free from all social norms.  Together, and under the guidance of their mysterious yet devoted professor, they explore the boundaries and limitations of humanity and what is right and wrong.

I was totally hooked on this book.  I found the way that Tartt uses her narrative to create such suspence to be really clever and very addictive; the way the book evolves from beginning to end is staggering, and somehow reminds me of a kind of decent into hell.  It is a dark story, beautifully written and totally compelling.

 

 

The Neapolitan Novels

  1. My Brilliant Friend
  2. The Story of a New Name
  3. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
  4. The Story of the Lost Child

-Elena Ferrante

I have spoken about my experience of reading these four novels on my blog before, and all I can say is that these are some of my most favourite pieces of writing ever.  I have never felt so touched, high as a cloud, depressed, questioning of my own life and choices or simply in awe of any book before.

Ultimately, this is one recounted telling, from start to end, of the lives of two heroines, Lila and Elena, from the beginning of their childhood friendship, right up until the present day.  Their stories take us through their lives, with all of the difficulties and challenges that they face in different situations; what it means to be a woman, suppression, political angst, breaking free from their roots, marriage and children, love, friendship… The books are so packed full of emotion, passion, intelligence, and I don’t think I have ever gone from loving to hating one character so much and so often as I did with Lila.

Some people have said that it is a good idea to read other books in-between these novels, which I might concur with, just to feel part of the real world again, although in reality I absolutely could not take a break from book two to book four!  Reading these books was one of those life events that I won’t forget.

 

The Animators

-Kayla Rae Whitaker

I really enjoyed this artistic and powerful novel.  The story is about two female animators who meet in art school in New York, one of them being the reckless, outgoing and exceptionally talented one, the other being more inwardly troubled, quiet and introverted.  They develop a strong connection to each other, out of respect for the other’s work and also through each feeling like a somewhat of a ‘misfit’ or an ‘outsider’ in this world, and decide to make a long-lasting business partnership.  Together, they create stunning and hugely successful animated movies based on their own lives and experiences, which bring up all sorts of personal issues for each of them, and for me, this is really what gave the book such depth.  The story ended up being about so much more than art, but about relationships and sexuality, told through the wonderful subtleties of this incredible art form.

I found the story to have a rich and capturing narrative, and the book gave me a huge appreciation for animation and the work that animators do, which I really had no idea about before reading this.  It is such an intimate and sad novel, but also totally heart-rendering.

 

All The Light We Cannot See

-Anthony Doerr

This poignant and heartfelt war novel is told from a slightly different perspective than what you normally get from this genre.  Set around World War Two, we follow two different stories, told inter-connectedly alongside each other, from two different sides of the war.  The first is about a young, blind, French girl and her father, who is the keeper of keys at a museum in Paris.  We fall in love with this pair immediately and become very emotionally drawn into their experience of the war in France.  The second story is about a young German orphan boy and his sister, who live in an orphanage in Germany.  The boy ends up in a special, elite, Nazi school, and here Doerr portrays some hideous and revolting events that went on from this side of the war through the eyes of this boy, somehow making it feel even worse.

Although, of course, the life of each child is completely different, and they each experience incredibly different versions of war life, they are also somehow connected and, on reading the book, you feel very much the bond between the two.  Doerr cleverly draws on the innocence and confusing emotions of children from both sides of the battle, making it an exceptionally touching and refreshing read.  I would definitely recommend this book.

 

All Grown Up

-Jami Attenberg

I was really interested to read this book, as I had not seen or heard of anything like it before.  The story focuses on a woman in her middle age, who has chosen not to marry or have children and her struggle to find her own identity in our society that doesn’t yet know how to categorise or view women who choose this direction in their lives.  I found it really brilliant how the story unfolded right within the inner workings of the mind of this woman – it felt like we got a real window into her thoughts and struggles and this made it even more captivating and revealing.

I think a book like this is highly relevant right now, whether you are a woman or a man, a feminist or not – this book makes a point which is something we can all think about.  The ‘old spinster’ view of single women in their 50s and 60s, who don’t have children, just doesn’t apply; it’s old-fashioned and out-dated and reading this book really made an impact on me and how I thought about this issue.

 

Swing Time

-Zadie Smith

This book tackles issues of race, class division, politics and gender stereotypes.  It’s about two girls, growing up on council estates in ‘rough’ London.  They each struggle with the challenges of their social contexts, but find a connection and a ‘place’ for themselves within dance.  For one girl, dance is a way to achieve a form of success, a chance for her to express herself and to be good at something.  For the other, it’s more of an exploration of her ethnicity, all about body shapes and rhythm which intrigue her.

Although I went through several different phases of being really engrossed in the book and not loving it so much, overall I found to be quite a powerful read and I would definitely be interested to check out more work from this author.  I found Smith’s writing style to be very vibrant and colourful, it’s almost effortless reading.

Reading this book has also made me very aware of social issues, particularly focusing on minority groups, which, for some reason, were escaping my reading choices.  I would really like to expand my reading to explore and discover much more in this category, especially any books written by authors from social minority backgrounds, so if you have any recommendations for me, please let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

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