Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poor squirrel...

On an average day, I am usually woken by my son around 6 o'clock. But today, I heard this strange, angry motorized sound. My first thought was that my son had come into our bedroom playing with a remote controlled car, but then I realized that he doesn't have one. I slowly turned around to see the time: 7 o'clock. Huh?! My son is still asleep at 7 AM?! I kept hearing that annoying noise and started to realize that it came from outside. When I pulled back the curtains I see this:

ARGH!!! Their cutting the trees?! Why the hell is that? They are our only barrier with the neighbors across the yard... There is nothing wrong with them, except that maybe one of them a bit further down the row might be sick, for it's leaves are turning brown. But the ones in front of our windows look just fine. There is even a squirrel living in one of the trees that has already been cut down...

Meanwhile, my son has woken up and joined me at the window. While discussing the poor squirrel, we suddenly see it running towards the most left tree in the picture below. It climbs all the way up and starts nibbling on something. While I am still busy pitying the poor little creature, my son remarks: "Never mind mum, there are other trees for it to make a home." OK...

And to top it off, later this morning I saw this yellow monster entering the building site. I don't know exactly what it is, but it looks suspiciously much like a pole drilling machine. I sure hope the construction worker's holidays last till the end of August...

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Yesterday, I went to the Türkenmarkt at Maybachufer, which got its name from the many Turkish stall holders (and buyers). At first sight, it is not a very special market. They sell the usual stuff like fruit, vegetables, (Turkish) food and clothing, but it is also one of the few places in town where you can buy cheap cloth at 3 or 4 euros per meter. Cloth is of course sold in numerous places, like Karstadt and Idee/KaDeWe (where they also have Kokka cloth) but there it costs at least 12 euros per meter. Which is not what I want because I am going to do some experimental sewing the coming weeks. 

There were also a number of 'modern' stalls, like this transporter bike stall where they sell items from repurposed materials. I especially liked the hats made of jute sacks, though I doubt I can persuade my husband to wear one... And there was a woman who amongst other things sold small handmade boxes at a very cheap price: I will show it later, for I have plans with that one.

At one end of the market there is a music corner where you can listen to street musicians while enjoying a snack and/or beverage that you just bought on the market. When I was there, a small jazz combo was playing and I spent some time lazing on one of the sofas that were placed on the left (not in the picture).

Oh yes, and I bought some cloth for a few unfinished projects:

I will keep you posted on the result of those...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lo Spaventa Passeri

While looking for the paper store RSVP in Mulackstrasse, I passed this lovely little Italian fashion store called Lo Spaventa Passeri on nr. 3:

Having been slightly disappointed by RSVP - in the sense that it was indeed very small and they didn't have sheets of paper, only stationary - I had some money to spare (ha ha!) and decided to have a look.

It was love at first sight: everything about this store is just perfect. I love the interior with the newspaper clipping pasted to the walls, I love the lamps, I even love the advertising board which says that all clothes are designed and made in Italy. 

But most of all, I love the style of the clothing: very simple, very nicely cut, very soft materials and very subtle decoration. I love this store!

And oh, lucky me! The summer sale had just started... 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tomato forest

My tomatoes have been doing their utmost best over the past few weeks, they are growing like crazy! One side of our balcony looks like a real tomato forest. I have had to bind them up and I now am very glad I bought these ridiculously long bamboo stalks. And if you look at the thread I used, you might recognize the 'knitting theme', for yes, it is indeed raspberry red/pink organic cotton.

I also have proof now that I have two different varieties: I did mark the seedlings of course, but my son found the neat rows of plastic cups quite boring and decided to arrange them in a more appealing way - by putting all of them in a wide circle with the marker straws laying in the middle. As if the seedlings were going to play 'who is who?' with them(?!). 

The plant above is most likely the cherry tomato, judging from the neat parallel rows in which the fruits are growing. It has produced an amazing amount of flowers so far, and is still producing new ones every day. The plant below (actually, two of them) looks to be a 'regular' tomato, although I forgot what the name is (note to self: make better markers next year). The mystery of the missing flowers is solved by the way, for in the end this plant did produce yellow flowers, it just took much longer than the cherry tomatoes. 

The only thing I am bit worried about is that the fruits will not be ripe before we will be leaving at the end of August... Let's hope that they will ripen soon!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Marta's book 'n box

I have been experimenting with some lovely chiyogami paper that I bought at my all time favorite shop here in Berlin: Modulor! It's probably the best craft supply store in Europe (though it is always dangerous to use big words). Because chiyogami paper is completely handmade, it's rather expensive so I only bought A4 size sheets to try out some ideas I had for creating boxes in Japanese style (not Japanese boxes, that is something quite different). Last year, I bought a large board cutter from the widow of a deceased bookbinder in Dordrecht (alas, bookbinding is a dying craft). Along with the cutter came a considerable amount of cut board, enough for at least 10 small boxes. There was no work description for these boxes, but they did not look too complicated. The best way to make the box was too include a hinged lid - only, I had never made such a box before. It took a while before I produced an acceptable box, but the result (below) was promising (there is always room for improvement...). 

The most difficult thing proved to be the cover: I wanted to use the chiyogami paper, but it was a bit too small. I had to cover the short sides separately, whereas it is custom to use a single sheet to cover the whole box. The advantage of covering the box with separate sheets is that you can adjust the pattern to match. And since I was busy matching everything, I decided to make a matching book with pockets.
I love this paper! More items will probably follow shortly, I will show you when they are finished...

Friday, July 12, 2013

On the mountain

Last week, I visited my dear friend Marta on 'her' mountain just outside Grenoble. It was an inspirational week with lots of laughter, good company and the most wonderful views from the terrace (even though the wretched hedge was still way too high).

The house itself perches on a steep allotment and when shot from below, it looks a bit like an old Japanese  wooden house. (But not from close by, though) In this picture, the cursed hedge aligning the terrace had already been cut somewhat lower by the humble gardener. When it will be cut to the right height you might actually see part of the windows. I will ask Marta to post a picture...

The terrace provides a perfect outdoor working/eating/chatting/relaxing space; when the sun is shining directly on the terrace, Marta puts up the cheese cloth 'sails' by fastening them to the balcony of the floor above and to the hedge on the side. A very cheap and handy solution, indeed.

And if the terrace gets too crowded, there is more space in the garden, including a hammock with a view and cherries for an easy afternoon snack (although they have all been eaten by now).

And then there is the potager, of course, which is an ongoing and very fulfilling project of the lady of the house. There are plants and seedlings everywhere around the house and in the vegetable garden and I loved to go out and fetch some delicious homegrown veggies for dinner every day. And if you will be visiting Marta and Eduard somewhat later this year and you will have chickpeas for dinner, then think of me, for I planted them. Thank you Marta, for this wonderful week! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tomatoes revisited

Remember my tomatoes? Well, they have already outgrown their pots and needles, so I had to build them a bigger home. Since we are here only temporarily, I did not want to buy too many pots, as we all have to take them home with us. Bigger food buckets would have been a very cheap and convenient replacement, but none of us are big eaters...

In the end I bought some buckets at the 1-euroshop and bamboo canes at a hardware store. I planted the roots relatively deep; they grow upwards and need extra soil every week. 

The tricky thing this time was that the plants were already in bloom (yes!), and I was not sure if the flowers would suffer from the replanting session. But after just a few hours, they seemed happier than ever and they are still growing as crazy! The only thing that keeps puzzling me is that the plant on the left has real yellow tomato flowers (see below, on the right), while the other two plants have little green bells that seem quite empty (see below). I mean, I cannot see any flowery stuff in there. It seems that these are 'sterile plants' that apparently do not need pollinating(?). Maybe I should investigate a bit more on that subject...

Friday, June 28, 2013


If  you wan to know what's hot and new in Berlin, you could subscribe to CeeCee, a wonderful newsletter in German and English. It's made by two Berliners that like to tour their hometown in search of new shops, exciting events and cool bars. Attached to the newsletter and their website is a city map on which all the reviewed venues are indicated. Very handy! Want more? Here's the site: CeeCee

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Seed bombs

My son recently received mail from OERRR, an initiative by Natuurmonumenten (Nature Preservation) to get children to explore nature. In the envelope were some new outdoor discovery cards and a package containing zaadbommetjes (seed bombs). He got really excited at the word 'bombs' but was disappointed when I told him the package would not explode when opened. The idea of making his own seed bombs became much more appealing when he realized that sand, clay and water would be involved. Since we did not have clay and the bombs now had to be made immediately, we just put some sand and water in a small bucket and mixed in the seeds. He then wanted to just throw the seed bombs off the balcony, 

but I managed to convince him that the seeds would probably be scooped away by the construction workers. So we went down into the 'garden' to look for a suitable place to drop our bombs...

In the end, we settled for a space next to the old electricity house, which is not likely to be torn down in the next months and which also had plenty of sun and most important: it is not an active construction site. As you can see, he did not want to get his hands dirty and carefully shook out the seed mixture in several places. He then faithfully went to watch the seeds grow for the first few days, but then decided that they were probably dead. Patience is not his strongest asset. Yesterday he suddenly remembered the seeds and went down to the seed spot to see if anything happened. 

Yes! Tiny little plants had come up at most of the seed spots and we could already discern several different leafs, although he was disappointed that I could not name the flowers. But hey, do I look like a flower expert to you? Anyway, he now checks up on the tiny fellows every morning before going to school and he puts a thumb to me when they grown again.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Lemon balm

About three months ago, I bought a tiny package of Zitronenmelisse (lemon balm) seed in the supermarket, for the one and only reason that the info on the back said: 'mosquito repellent'. Good! I thought, for if there is one thing I hate in summer... I sowed the seed in an empty milk carton, they are ideal for planting all sorts of stuff. The package also informed me that the seeds would germinate unevenly over a longer period of time. And indeed, it took over three weeks before the first tiny green sprouts became visible. The tiny sprouts remained tiny for another three weeks, but then suddenly started to grow really fast. I had to replant them and again used empty milk cartons, for I had a strong suspicion that they would need replanting within a couple of weeks.

And still, more tiny little sprouts keep popping up in the seed box, but I am in doubt now if I should still plant them on in bigger pots - in two months time, we will be moving back to Leiden and my husband is now cautiously starting to ask whether all this greenery is supposed to move back home with us...

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Last week we went to one of those mandatory events resulting from the fact that by accepting a research grant from the Alexander-von-Humboldt Stiftung my husband has become a Humboldtian and is now a member of the Humboldt Family. Ever year in June, the Stiftung celebrates its birthday by inviting all its relatives to a reception in the garden of Schloss Bellevue, the residence of the German Bundespräsident. And since Schloss Bellevue is only 10 minutes cycling from our house, I convinced my husband and my son that it would be fun to go there...

Normally, we would only have seen Schloss Bellevue from this side, but now we were able to see what lies behind the house/palace. While I was wondering whether we would actually meet the president, my husband was trying to remain inconspicuous because he did not want to talk to certain people and my son kept complaining that he was hungry ánd thirsty. After the inevitable security checks we were allowed into the park surrounding the Schloss and had to walk to the back of the house, which looks a lot like the front:

I was wondering why all the people over there were gathered around the parasol on the left, only to find that they were actually listening to a speech by Herr Dr. Gauck, the Bundespräsident himself (on the right - the white haired guy on the left is Prof. Schwarz, the president of the Humboldt Stiftung).

It was difficult to hear what he said, because my son kept tugging at my arm to ask why there was no food and that the apple juice did not taste right. Anyway, it was nice to have seen a real head of state in person. After the reception we were taken to Jannowitzbrücke for a long boat trip on the Spree which was excellent because the weather was great and the lunch that was served was not, so we spent the entire trip to Köpenick and back on deck.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Every year when spring arrives, I have these wonderful visions of homegrown fruits and vegetables that will feed me and my family all summer long. Since I own garden nor balcony I can only keep on dreaming and try to grow some herbs in the window sills. Here in Berlin however, I have a pretty large and extremely sunny balcony. So this year, I was determined to grow at least one sort of vegetables: tomatoes. It started out quite well with tiny plants growing into bigger ones. But then I somehow forgot about them (maybe because spring was terribly late) and when I remembered them they looked very sad and had grown in awkward directions.

It was tempting to just throw them in the bin, but I decided to put them on the balcony to give them (and myself) a second chance. And look, after a couple of days of pampering they started to cheer up, so I repotted them, and now they go like crazy! I cannot wait to see those small yellow flowers popping up in due time - hopefully soon : )

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Künstlermarkt - Strasse des 17. Juni

The weekly Troedelmarkt at Strasse des 17. Juni is pretty well known in Berlin and it's also mentioned in practically all travel guides. What these guides never mention is another market that is also on Strasse des 17. Juni but on the other side of the Charlottenburger Tor - the Künstlermarkt. Every Saturday and Sunday (starting from May, it seems) local artists are selling their handmade work here, which ranges from paintings, leather bags, wood work and jewelry to toys, clothes and iphone sleeves. My favorite artist is a woman who makes table ware out of old silver cutlery - of which, sadly I wasn't allowed to take pictures. But I will probably buy something from her in the coming weeks, so I will be able to show you anyway. 

The most popular stand (especially on sunny days) is the Wunderseifenblasen stand of Peter & Pat. They make giant soap bubble blowers from rope and bamboo sticks. Very simple and extremely effective - not to mention funny and addictive. All you need is a large amount of soapy water and a little wind and there it goes! My 5-year old son was so fascinated by them that I  had to buy him one (a small one - orange, of course). 

He happily went off to try it out, and what do you know? Even he can do it! 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Was jetzt wieder?!

It is time to return to the continuing story of the building activities here at the Carré Charlotte apartment building site. Last week, my son and I gladly noticed the removal of the yellow workman's cabins in front of our balcony. Would the building activities finally come to an end?

Indeed, the whole site looks a lot better with all the trees having leaves again and the rubbish removed. We were already daydreaming about a playground with a swing and a water pump, when the next day...

an excavator arrived, which tore down the whole wall on the eastern side of our terrain?! What was that all about?

That afternoon, I met out our neighbor on the staircase and she told me that she was furious because she had heard from the Hausmeister that another apartment building will be built right in front of our balconies! Staright away! After clearing the site they will immediately start building?! We were both quite sure that nobody from the Hausverwaltung had ever told us this was going to happen when we rented this place. She asked me what we were going to do about it. Well, we are moving out at the end of August... She said that she was so angry that she thought about moving out as well. And she knew from several other tenants that they are thinking the same. The Hausmeister had also told her that there is another project from the same builder in Berlin Lichtenberg with the same problems: taking way too long to finish, lots of complaints about missing stuff in the apartments, bad communication with the Hausverwaltung. Hmmmm...

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Purslane pesto

A few weeks ago, I was doing my usual Saturday shopping round at the local eco-market at Karl-August-Platz here in Charlottenburg. I love the many local producers that come here every week to sell their homegrown products - all of them are from Berlin or from somewhere nearby in Brandenburg. Germans are quite passionate about their food and they love fresh vegetables in many varieties. And so I was very happy to find the lovely tender bright green leaves of purslane in one of the stalls. I remembered a recipe for purslane pesto that I had found in a Christmas special of of PUUR, a magazine of an eco-supermarket chain in The Netherlands:

* ± 90 grams (winter) purslane
* 6 tbl spoons olive oil
* 50 grams walnuts
* 50 grams grana padano cheese, grated
* 1 tbl spoon lemon juice
* 1/2 tea spoon salt
* 1/2 tea spoon freshly ground pepper

Mix all ingredients in a mortar or in a mixer. Add more oil if the mixture is too dry. Be a bit careful in adding the cheese: this pesto has a wonderful subtle taste, and too much cheese can make the taste too 'heavy'. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Deutsche Oper

Ever since we moved to Berlin, I have been wanting to go to the opera. At the time, there are two opera houses at the Bismarckstrasse, just a few hundred meters from our home. (Actually, there are no less than three opera houses in Berlin: the Deutsche Oper Berlin in Charlottenburg, the Staatsoper Unter der Linden in Mitte and the Komische Oper in .... .) The Staatsoper venue is currently undergoing major reconstruction and therefore it is now temporarily residing in the beautiful Schiller Theater, also in the Bismarckstrasse. The theater is just a few minutes walking from the consideringly uglier Deutsche Oper. But since I had tickets for the latter one, I went there first.

The Deutsche Oper is the biggest opera house in Berlin with 1859 seats. It is also the second largest concert hall in Germany. The building was designed in 1957 (and opened in 1961) by Fritz Bornemann as the replacement for the old classicist building from 1912, which was destroyed during a bomb raid in 1943. The architect envisioned a massive windowless outer wall along the broad and noisy Bismarckstrasse (one of the most busy streets in Charlottenburg), so that the theater hall is completely shielded off from the street noises. It does make the building look like a massive concrete brick, until you walk to the side walls which are almost completely made of glass. 

A minor but annoying design flaw (in my opinion) is visible on the corner of the building: on opera days, two flags are hung outside, showing the title of the opera that is playing that night. But, because the wind is mostly blowing in from the east, the text is always shown mirror wise... 

On the inside, the building is very symmetric and transparent. The spacious foyers are suited for multifunctional use and are often used for film shootings and commercials. Installed in the main foyer is a most fascinating motorized bronze wall sculpture - Alunos Discus by George Baker (1978). It is nicknamed 'der Wolkenskulptur' for the swirling, silent motion and the billowing forms, which had a quite mesmerizing effect on me. Measuring 10.6 meters in width and 4.2 meters in height it dominates the foyer with its slow movements: 

After wandering around in the building for about an hour, I had almost forgotten that I was actually there to watch and listen to an opera: The Love for Three Oranges by Sergei Prokofiev. It was all very Russian, very absurdist and very funny (it's an opera buffo). The singers were excellent, especially the Prince (Thomas Blondelle) and Truffaldino (Paul Kaufmann) and the lovely, very young Princesse Ninette (Hila Fahima). Alas, filming and photography was strictly prohibited, so I can only show you my illegal footing of a closed curtain, people looking for their seats and the orchestra members doing some last minute practice... 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Please don't send mail

That is, please don't use DPD to send me a package... Deutsche Post/DHL do find us most of the time, though they don't seem to like post cards. We have estimated that out of the 7 post cards we know were heading our way, only 3 actually made it to our mail box. Comparative analysis of the date stamps learned that a post card with priority sticker will take about 2 days, whereas a post card without priority sticker might easily stroll over here by itself in about 5 weeks. Packages sent with TNT have all arrived (as far as we know). The Dutch newspaper we receive here usually is 2 days late, but sometimes it does not arrive at all or they arrive in throngs at the end of the week. The only mail that is always on time and arriving in abundance, is the official Dutch authorities mail. You know, tax papers, social security services stuff, municipial taxes... 

But now back to the DPD package service. About a month ago, my dear friend Ilse ordered a gift for my son's birthday at a Belgian webshop. The package was sent using DPD. At his birthday, we got a lovely birthday message from Ilse and family, asking whether their package had arrived. Well, alas, it had not. A few days later, I got an e-mail from Ilse asking me if our address was correct, because DPD claimed that there was an error. I confirmed to her that, yes, the address was correct but it might be that DPD still has the old address of this building on record, for after renovation the building was assigned to a different street. So I also gave her the data of the former address and the package was sent to Berlin after all. All this took about a week. Several days after this, I got a phone call from the DPD distribution center in Berlin, asking whether the address was right, because they did not know it and were confused by my extra information including the former address. I told them that yes, the address was right, but please use the entrance at the site of the old address. I realize this might all sound a bit puzzling to you, so I made a small map to explain our situation:

See? It's actually quite simple. But not so for the DPD guy. Last week on Tuesday - I was not at home - I got a call from the delivery man, trying to explain to me where he was waiting for me with the package:
DPD: "Hello? This is DPD, I am standing at Fraunhoferstrasse near the orange container."
me: "Orange container?"
DPD: "Yes, the orange container at the building site. Can you come down here to receive your package?"
me: "Eh, well, no, I am not at home right now." (Meanwhile I was racking my brain about the location of the orange container)
DPD: "When will you be home? I can come back in about half an hour."
me: "I will not be back in half an hour, can you deliver it at one of my neighbors? You will have to walk to the Otto Suhr side, though."
DPD: "All right, I will try". (Big sigh)
A few minutes later he calls back:
DPD: "Yes, DPD again; there is nobody there to accept your package. I will take it back to the distribution center."
me: "OK, will you bring it tomorrow, then?"
DPD: "No, you will have to make a new appointment."
me: "Yes, and how do I do that?"
DPD: "Well, you call this number ... and then I will come once more on Thursday"
So I call the number, which is a call center and costs €1,49 per call(?!) and try to explain to the lady that the delivery should be done at the Otto Suhr Allee building site, not at the Fraunhoferstrasse. She obviously doesn't understand what I mean, but agrees to print out the explicatory note and schedules the second delivery for Thursday.

On Thursday, no DPD and nobody answers the phone. On Friday, same procedure (but it's Good Friday, so they probably don't work today). On Tuesday, after the long Easter weekend, DPD calls again:
DPD: "Hello? This is DPD, I am standing at Fraunhoferstrasse, can you come down to collect your package?" (No orange container this time)
me: "Fraunhoferstrasse? That will be difficult, for I cannot reach the other side of the building site. I am at the Otto Suhr side and the access to the Fraunhoferstrasse is blocked."
DPD: "OK, I see what you mean; I will give the package to my colleague on the Otto Suhr route."
me: "But can't you just make a detour, it's only two corners to Otto Suhr from where you are now"
DPD: "Sorry madam, that's not possible, it's a different route. I will give to my colleague and you will have it tomorrow." (Argh?!)

And today, hurray! I finally got the package (as well as two more packages for neighbors). And to top it off, a post card arrived from grandma O. - without priority sticker - after 3 weeks.

In short: should you decide to send me mail, please put a priority sticker on it and don't use DPD...