Saturday, August 3, 2013

Berlin & Brussels spoils

I loved this city more than I ever imagined I could
Since returning from my summer holiday some two weeks ago I have kept away from my blog and barely updated my page as per usual. I came back home to an endless list of chores, an exponentially-growing pile of sewing projects, a chest infection which (quite frankly) has outstayed its welcome, the summer edition of PATCHES fair on the horizon and a couple of other health related set-backs.. oh and the stifling heat which made it almost impossible for me to sit down and summon up some much needed focus.

I also happen to be in a bit of a complicated relationship with my blog .. I do not like how it looks any more but have no time to dedicate to remedying this issue. I also constantly question its validity; so here I am, in a (rare) accommodating mood where I seem to be able to justify the act of blogging.

Today, I'm writing to share my love of these two cities and some tips about places one might want to visit or keep an eye out for. I'm also writing to confess that I have been wrong all along in stating that I do not enjoy shopping - allow me a 're-phrase' - I do not enjoy shopping generally, but I love it when I'm abroad/the markets are full of gems/do not necessarily have to try anything on in awkwardly spaced and mirrored cubicles .

Disclaimers over. On with it.

I fell in love with Berlin - everything works, beautifully and efficiently.
The streets follow a rationally spaced grid and the street names are clearly labelled (and in very appealing fonts). That alone would have been enough to win this simple girl's heart over. But Berlin goes above and beyond that. A truly cosmopolitan city, it brings together the best breakfasting, lunching, snacking and dining options from around the world - traditional fare meets quick-snack options, fresh juices on every corner, real jasmine flower tea (is not a novelty), memorable korean/thai/vietnamese joints and never-a-dry puff-pastry treat .. and all of the above very reasonably (sometimes even 'cheaply') priced. Berlin is not audacious.. it welcomes one without going out of its way to grab one's attention. People cycle to work, sunbathe in the nude in the parks, cool their feet in public fountains - but diligently and respectfully so .. this city makes you wonder what (and when) did it all go wrong for other cities. Transport options work perfectly, locals go out of their way to offer help and most sport really sharp haircuts. The pace is relaxed, the history monumental, the food enticing ...
I am back home wondering how on earth I managed to leave Berlin at all!
After walking down Unter den Linden towards Museumsinsel I came to realize how quickly the eyes grow accustomed to such stylistic juxtapositions. I love this chaos -clean, sharp and yet charming chaos.
Top Berlin eats for me would have to be:

The buttery and salty pretzel from the artisan bakery on the corner of Nollendorfstr. and Maassenstr.
Freshly grilled scallops from the top floor at KadeWe shopping arcade
Apfeltaschen and other pastries from the open air Saturday market of Winterfeldt-platz
Korean hot-plate feast at Madang on Gneisenaustr.
Fresh avocado shake from the indoor food market at Marheineke-platz
PS: Wurst is good, really good.. Currywurst not so much. Currywurst is the annoyingly famous jock at sausage-highschool.. do not let it kill your gastro-siasm for the local fare.
PSs: Bergmannstr. in Kreuzberg spoils you for choice of good eateries/shops/cafes so if you only have one night to spare, spend it there because it sorts you right out Berlin-style.

Berlin is also a thrift shopper's paradise..
On Sunday I visited 3 markets in all and that almost did me right in.. so much choice leaves one on the verge of de-sensitization but I was willing to take the risk.

This is the Trodelmarkt/Fleamarket am/in Arkonaplatz just a couple of blocks away from the all important Bernauer-spot of history/Berlin wall divide-strasse. Two birds with one stone!
My first purchase from Arkonaplatz was this Asian inspired 80's thing which the stall holder was especially surprised I showed so much interest in. Some guidebooks describe this as the 'trendiest' market. They are wrong. This is the quirkiest. The trendiest is the 'all'-handmade hipster-haven Flohmarkt am Mauerpark off Bernauerstr. Both markets are within walking distance so visiting both is totally doable.

This was my first Berlin purchase - and may I just say it just set the tone for all the purchases to follow .. super fancy, unrealistically flash and hard to incorporate into my existing wardrobe.

And this, my second purchase, is what I almost *stupidly* left behind. This pure silk-Fritz Lang-coat with visually stunning yet understated tan trim reeked of cigarette smoke and (romantically enough, I was convinced it) came with its own untold story. I rushed to try it on.. it made so much sense all too quickly.. it had to be mine.. and as I twirled in it in front of the make-shift stall-mirror my dreams were cut short when I realized I hadn't yet enquired about its price. Long story short .. this coat opened the floodgates of my humble bank account, this was the gateway purchase. I bought it despite the hefty price tag/the fact that I didn't really afford it because I realized that it was probably going to be the closest I would ever get to starring in a German expressionist film.
My third flea-market for that Sunday was the biggest and best-known Berliner Trodelmarkt on Strasse des 17. Juni. An expansive and slightly more expensive affair.
Code-word: LAMé

Clockwise from top: a) I've never wanted a plastic fruit bowl so much, b) The fur coat I still dream about even though I fully accept that I'd never have been able to justify its purchase, c) The brooches that almost did my head in curated by a lovely Canadian-born vendor, a collector of antique cabochons from around the world and as friendly as they come.

The vest that'll see me from day to night. This was my reasoning.. and a bargain at 8 euros
And this is the dress to end all dresses - this dress really caught the jaded shopper in me off guard. I realized that I was in love with it even before I had met it. It happened to me in the same way I'd imagine a marriage proposal from Adam Ant would. It was unexpected and deep down I knew that in all likelihood it was bound to fail but I still went along for the ride. Some proposals simply cannot be turned down. I am now the proud owner of a pink lamé evening dress with absolutely no occasion for it.

And this is where I come to the half-arsed philosophical kernel of this blogpost. Travel does strange things to you. Travel relaxes you, cuts into your routine and lays bare the innermost constructions of a person. In the rush that is everyday life one seldom stops/finds any reason to stop and think about what really defines them as a person. Travelling gives you nothing but such 'down'-time. It is when I travel that I am reminded what a hopeless dreamer I really am and my purchases are the biggest give-aways. I buy books and postcards in an attempt to hold on to the memories of a place, I go overboard taking photos of the food, I splurge on clothes better suited for the life I dream about leading. The life I lead needs a pair of sturdy walking sandals and a Northface zip-up with rows of pockets for my scissors, pliers and pocketbooks. Instead, I buy ..

... scarab brooches - it's the closest I can get to holding on to the memories I amassed at the Neues Museum and becoming a 1920s Egyptologist (a childhood dream of mine) ... and

Art Deco enamelled clip earrings to go with my 2013 summer hat - a summer which (as I should have expected and as opposed to what I had tantalized myself by dreaming/hyping up ) I am spending mostly indoors.

PS: GO TO THE PERGAMON MUSEUM - or (at least) die tryin'
it is a place of wonder and that's one more thing off my bucket list

also DO GO to KadeWe  and do not be put off by the fact that it is actually a (mostly designer) shopping arcade; the top floor is a gourmet's heaven and (believe it or not) the ladies' toilet has one of the most stunning views!

This is COLOURS 102, Bergmanstr. - a second-hand super-warehouse/market with an area of sold-by-weight second-hand items and another area of better quality reasonably priced gems

First rack love - all of the items I got from Colours were picked up from the first rack I sifted through. Beginner's luck - perhaps. All I know is that I almost died when, arms loaded to breaking point, I looked behind me and literally couldn't see the back wall of the first floor warehouse. This dress is creased because I wore it to a party on a hot Maltese day, got tipsy and slept in it all the way home so in this case it's fair to say that the creases are a sign of love.

this makes so much sense in my books, I hope you see it too - again, please excuse the creases

Leather - sold by weight - was 50% off so I helped myself to a perhaps-not-as-practical-as-the-black-option-I-intended-to-look-for 70s beige jacket

*roll on winter goddamit*

This chevron dream of a dress I got from a similarly overwhelming vintage-warehouse  on Mehringdamm called Faster, Pussycat.

This is me rowing/making my sea-faring grandpas proud

Last words from/for Berlin:
*WALK. Walk a lot and as much as you can. Follow a map (it's easy and satisfying) - of course you might prefer to cycle but I do not know how to so I walk (a lot) instead
*Rent a boat and row about for at least a half an hour on the Neuer See lake within the Tiergarten. Take beer and a book and row your boat to a nice shady spot and wait for the ducks to swim past.
*Don't bother with Alexanderplatz. Perhaps if it's snowing it might win you over as it did Franco Battiato, but in Summer it reeks and it felt like the emptiest a busy square can be.
*Go to Neukolln and immerse yourself in the hipster(zoo) experience - I've never seen a bigger concentration of hip-good-lookin'-young-'uns in one place.
*Berliners love to stare - and their stares linger but in a friendly curious way. You wouldn't think it, but I couldn't help feeling it.
*I regret not doing the Techno-thing .. but I'm sure there'll be a next time.

This is Brussels .. alphabetically as in life/my-travel-itinerary/top-cities-I'd-love-to-move-to, it follows Berlin

  I went to Brussels(for the second time) primarily because I was invited (as the MAID OF HONOUR *whoop whoop) to a good friend's wedding - the best of excuses to spend more time away from your usual routine. This was to be my first wedding abroad and suffice to say that it was a real pleasure for us and a success all round. 

In between meeting up with friends, showing Mr. around some touristy places I had already visited first time round, adjusting to the (compared to Berlin) irregularities in public transport and street signs and to-ing and fro-ing from wedding rehearsals I managed to add insult to injury to my bank balance and visited some favourite spots for vintage finds before walking off to a food marathon in the centre of Brussels.

The famous antique market at Place de Jeu de Balle is where I met Mr.Friendly-Tunisian-whose-name-I-regrettably-forgot who gave me a generous discount on this lovely satin and guipu evening dress for the simple reason of birthplace-proximity. And I quote ''I love Malta. Maltese women are very nice, they work very hard. My friend is married to a Maltese woman. She very rich but still no stop working. I love Maltese women. I give you a discount''. Just perfect <3

And one last purchase 'that was meant to be' from my favourite Brussels shop MODES .. this is the  closest I could ever get to a certain Prada snakeskin+fur coat model from A/W 2011that's been haunting me ever since. Moreover, when I bought the coat and left the shop, I placed my hand in its pocket and found a fistful of gold Virgin Mary pendants *meant to be, I say .. as I firmly close the zip on my wallet for the last time*

and so my tale of two cities comes to an end - this has been my 2-cents worth of advice/recollections .. I wish I could say more and better, but failing that I'll leave you with a promise of more posts about what I do in the 'in-between-times' before and after I travel. I rarely travel and must work hard to afford it if I'm to insist on working on something I truly love. So off to work I go ..

laters xx

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