April 6 will go down in roboppy-history as the day I discovered the most fun game you could play while waiting at a crosswalk: Crosswalk Button Hunt. What makes this game so fun? Well, pull up a chair and let me tell you. Each intersection becomes not just another negligible pause in your ambulatory journey, but the exciting site of an unknown, potentially new crosswalk button (...unless it's a crossing you've already been to). If it's new, then congratulations! (If it's not, then [cut to sad trombone].) Take a photo, save your triumph in your digital memory bank, and...go find some more! YOU MUST COLLECT ALL 12 BUTTONS IN ORDER TO INVOKE THE MYSTICAL SCEPTER OF WUNDERSCHNUSS AND BREAK THE CURSE OF THE ZIEFEINBOCH.*
* Reminder: I don't know German.
And that's how you play Crosswalk Button Hunt.
...I am a woman with simple pleasures.
[These blog posts usually take me forever to write for no good reason, a reason that can often be attributed to a convoluted path of procrastination. And because I want you to know just how horrible I am at focusing, let me share my path of procrastination for the intro you just read: I look up "Gotta Catch Them All" for inspiration about Crosswalk Button Hunt, on which page I come across a game called Koala Lumpur, which I then Google because I think it sounds funny, which I then find out was made by Brøderbund, which sends me into a tizzy of childhood nostalgia because I'd guess about half of the computer games I played as a kid were made by Brøderbund (the other half, Sierra), which makes me look up lists of games made by Brøderbund, which makes me look up videos on YouTube of game play-throughs, which sucks up at least 45 minutes of my life and shows me that childhood nostalgia totally wipes out any feelings of lethargy I may be feeling after 2 a.m. because OMG IT'S LIVING BOOKS I AM SO EXCITED!!!! Surely there are other '90s kids here who know what I'm talking about.]
Okay, you don't have to collect all 12; I made that up. (I know, I know; it sounded so real.) Basically, after my first day in Berlin I realized crosswalk buttons in Berlin looked nifty and thus I gave myself the goal of documenting as many crosswalk button designs as I could by the end of my trip. My prize: a tiny database of designs of an everyday thing and the self-satisfaction that comes with it. Somewhere on my list of "Stuff I Like"—in the vicinity of "kittens" and "corn nuts"—is "the design of everyday things." Because you think you know what a crosswalk button looks like, and then you come across a curved, yellow, plastic brick decorated by a three-dot symbol arranged in a permanent state of surprise
that responds to touch, not mechanical depression, [update (6/25/12): Anonymous commented that the three dots mean the crosswalk is blind people-friendly and is automatically timed; pressing the button doesn't do anything] and it's like, "...Why haven't I seen this before?" Especially since, according to the website of the German manufacturer who makes the buttons, capacitive crosswalk buttons are used in over 30 countries. Many of the crosswalks also emit a soft, somewhat visceral ticking sound—like a wooden block being hit with a mallet—to tell blind people it's okay to cross. Not a unique function, but not one I'm used to either.
I'm also not used to crosswalk buttons actually working.
Crosswalk buttons aren't widespread in New York City, as far as I can tell. I was surprised when I recently came across the one above, near Madison Square Park; I'm guessing it's fairly new, within the last few years, but I may just be really unobservant and never noticed it before. Most crosswalk signals in New York City are automatically timed, rendering buttons unnecessary, and as the New York Times reported in 2004, most buttons have been deactivated.
I'm sure I failed at finding all the buttons styles in Berlin—I only had one week, after all. But the search made the trip more fun. Now it's my goal to do some sort of photo scavenger hunt during every vacation I take. CROSSWALK BUTTONS OF THE WORLD, I SHALL FIND ALL or more likely ONLY AN INSIGNIFICANT PERCENTAGE OF YOU!
That morning sparked not one, but two rituals over the course of the trip: mini sandwiches for breakfast. There's a bakery stand in Nollendorfplatz station that sells fresh sandwiches and pastries every morning. Sandwiches start at the "I may as well eat this every morning" price of 1 measly euro for a mini version. And while my affinity for these sandwiches may have had a lot to do with the bargain price, I'd like to believe they were also quite good. Sometimes all I want in a sandwich is a chewy, crusty roll with minimal fillings, and the ham-cucumber-lettuce-mayo sandwich above fit the bill.
Kåre and I met up with Diana at Brandenburg Gate to go on Sandeman's free Berlin tour. The three and a half-hour tour is a great way to get a look at some of the city's most famous landmarks in a single afternoon, accompanied by engaging historical facts and friendly banter from your guide. The downsides are that you don't get to spend much time in any one place, and if you're in a large, unwieldy group, you may not hear everything the guide is saying. But hey; it's free (with optional tips) and if you're as history ignorant as I am, super educational. If you have the time and are totally new to the city, I highly recommend it.
You can "reserve" tickets online for the free tour, but it's really not necessary. When you meet the tour at Brandenburg Gate, you get get numbered tickets from a guide; this number will determine what group you join, quite important for organization's sake since there will probably be a gablillion other people milling about, waiting for the tour. I'm not positive how many people were in my group—maybe around 25.
After leaving Brandenburg Gate, we got a glimpse of where part of the wall used to be, designated by the crooked line slicing down the middle of Eberstrasse. You can view a map of the wall's former course at Berlin.de.
Next stop was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a disorienting maze of rectangular concrete slabs of various heights on a gently undulating field. Even though it's a grid that you can get out of by walking straight in any direction, you can easily feel lost when you're surrounded by towering slabs. We took the quick "walk straight through" route to avoid losing people. I had no idea at the time how freakin' huge the memorial is.
What are all these tourists doing in a drab Socialist-era apartment complex's parking lot? Walking over the site of Hitler's bunker. There's an informational panel to mark the site—only installed in 2006—but otherwise it's nondescript. Definitely not something I would've looked for or noticed on my own.
On the ground in front of the Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus (headquarters of the German Finance Ministry, which my mind simplifies as "where tax junk happens") is a wide, blown-up photograph of protestors who gathered in front of the building during the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany.
Behind the memorial on the building's wall is the overbearing 18-meter long communist propaganda mural "Aufbau der Republik" ("Structure of the Republic") by Max Lingner, finished in 1953.
Here's out fantastic guide Sophie, overlooked by the concentrated smiling powers of an army of East German women.
Next to the finance building was this curiously named, abandoned building. The only info I could find about the building is that the words were stuck there by a street artist.
Next up was a quick look at this section of the Berlin Wall. I couldn't tell you exactly where it was, but there are quite a few places to see the wall, as listed in this Berlin Wall guide with locations.
LUNCH! (Well, lunch time also doubled as "Checkpoint Charlie time," but most people chose lunch.) Sophie recommended Fresco as a decent and inexpensive lunch spot across from Checkpoint Charlie, a touristy area where I'm guessing the choices aren't fantastic. My sandwich, consisting of a comically long bisected hot dog topped with curry-flavored ketchup and pickles on a mini baguette, was perfectly fine for the price of €2.60 (according to my questionably accurate notes).
After lunch, we visited the Gendarmenmarkt, a square featuring the Konzerthaus Berlin and flanked by two seemingly identical buildings: the Französischer Dom (French Cathedral) and the Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral). The French one was build first, in 1705, modeled after the destroyed Huguenot church in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, France; the German one was built in 1708. They didn't get their identical domes, designed by architect Carl von Gontard, until 1785. (As for why they were given identical domes, all Wikipedia says is that the domes were added to give the Gendarmenmarkt a symmetrical design. I was expecting more, but...[shrugs]) Today the Französischer Dom houses the Huguenot museum, a restaurant, and viewing platform from the tower. The Deutscher Dom is home to a German parliament exhibit called "Wege - Irrwege - Umwege" ("Milestones - Setbacks - Sidetracks") that Lonely Planet's Berlin guide helpfully says "charts the path of parliamentary democracy in Germany and regularly bores field-tripping school kids to tears."
Next stop was Bebelplatz, a non-symmetrical square surrounded by more lofty architecture: the State Opera building, Humboldt University's law library, and St. Hedwig's Cathedral. But the most interesting bit in the square is underground: "Bibliotek", the memorial by Israeli sculptor Micha Ullman commemorating the Nazi book burning that took place in Bebelplatz on May 10, 1933. A small square-ish window looks down on an all-white room with empty bookcases enough for 20,000 books, representing the number of books burned. To get the full effect, you need to visit it at night when the room is lit up and you're not competing with glare.
We took a quick look inside the Neue Wache, a guard house-turned-WWI memorial-turned-East German WWII memorial-turned-post-reunification WWII memorial. Since 1993 the building has housed an enlarged version of Käthe Kollwitz's sculpture "Mother with her Dead Son," which sits under the building's oculus.
Our last stop was Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) on Museum Island. We sat on the church's steps as Sophie told us about the events leading up to the fall of the Berlin wall. Then after giving Sophie our tips (not required, but if all the guides are like Sophie, they've earned 'em. If you're curious, I think I gave €10), it was good-bye time.
Diana, Kåre, and I hopped on the U-Bahn to get down to Berlin's largest Turkish market, open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. I took this photo to illustrate two things you won't find on NYC's subway: CCTV cameras and maps on the ceiling. Maps on the ceiling make sense to me; in NYC, the full-system map is often awkwardly behind the head of a sitting passenger. Admittedly, looking straight up at a map is kind of awkward too.
So...here's a photo of a fluorescent green clothespin propped up by a cluster of turds, because it's the only photo I took during our failed walk along Maybachufer in search of The Turkish Market That Wasn't There. Turns out the market had taken place on Thursday because of the Easter holiday weekend, but we walked quite a while before Diana whipped out her iPhone to confirm that we had missed the market. She found a website describing the market as something that would smack you in the face with bustling energy and Turkish goodies as soon as you left the metro station. Our walk was quiet and serene. And all I have to show for it is a pile of butt nuggets.
But the trip to Kreuzberg wasn't all for nothing; near the Turkish market is Fräulein Frost (Miss Frost), a homemade ice cream and waffle shop with a charming, understated childlike atmosphere. ICE CREAM AND WAFFLES, GUYS. If that doesn't whet your fancy, then you can geeeet ouuuuuuwwwt [points to virtual exit sign].
I went for the Nussbecher made with three scoops of ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce, sprinkled with crunchy streusel bits and hazelnuts, heaped with whipped cream, and impaled (there's a less violent way to say that, but...it is impaled) with two flute cookies for the nice price of €4.80 (about $6). My three flavors: pflaume (plum), buttermilch-orange (orange buttermilk), and sahne-mohn (poppy seed cream).
Unfortunately, this is where my "I can't taste stuff" problem really became...problematic. Eating with a stuffy nose, I could hardly taste anything. I could tell the ice cream was smooth and creamy, the toppings were different levels of crunchy, and the whipped cream was milky ploofy goodness, but aside from sweetness level (which wasn't high) I couldn't tell you how well the different flavors fared. Despite that, I enjoyed my sundae and would recommend it. If I lived in Berlin, I could see this being one of my favorite spots. Whether you want to take advice from someone who can barely taste is up to you.
Maybe I would've been better off getting a waffle (starting at €2.50) like Diana did. Her powdered sugar-dusted heart-shaped waffle paired with a scoop of vibrantly deep pink raspberry ice cream (or sorbet; not sure which one it was) exuded as much charm as the rest of the shop, and unlike many of the food photos I take required pretty much no effort in the "how do I take a good photo of this?" department.
Aside from offering different kinds of waffles with sweet toppings and ice cream sundaes, Fräulein Frost also makes apple strudel and carrot cake, milkshakes with espresso, iced chocolate, or orange juice, and serve coffee beverages, beer, and wine.
Their opening hours are from 1 p.m, Monday to Friday, and from noon Saturday and Sunday, until...the evening. According to Google translate, late at night if it's sunny and warm, not as late if it's rainy and cold.
Lastly, here's a adorable wooden toy of little ice cream cones and popsicles that was sitting in the window next to our table. I totally wanted it.
After dessert came dinner. (I heard you're supposed to do it the other way around, but whatever.) Since I hadn't chosen a restaurant ahead of time, Diana pulled out her iPhone and looked up Turkish restaurants on Yelp, pinning down Turkish mini-chain Hasir as a promising choice. Some sights from our ~20 minute walk:
- Landwehr Canal
- Sprouts & More. A giant carrot, at least.
- "I would have preferred a blank wall rather than this great piece of shit"
- Desinfections Anstalt I. I couldn't find much more info about this building besides what's on this page.
- This turquoise door has seen better days.
- Fantastic laundromat sign featuring a few dangling socks.
- An older crosswalk button.
- This car has a case of broken butt.
- Kjosk, a restaurant in a vintage double-decker bus. Reading over their site, it looks like they left this location last month and will be somewhere else TBD. Damn, maybe we should've popped in...
- One of the many impressive murals in Berlin.
We went into Hasir Ocakbasi not knowing the original Hasir was right next door. I'm guessing there isn't much difference in food quality. According to their website: "The new Hasir Ocakbasi in the Adalbertstraße beside the 'oldest Hasir' affort the same quality just with one difference that all meat dishes are dress in our chargrill." Uughahauhbluuggh ok!
They started us off with freshly grilled flatbread, a kind of pide. It was good chewy, mildly charred stuff.
My dish also came with a side salad.
And here's my Kuzu şiş (€10.50): lamb kebab with rice and pide chunks on top of some sort of super-thin bread, with some sort of onion-parsley-grilled-vegetable medley on the side. Since I was still suffering from can't-taste-much syndrome, I couldn't really judge the flavor of anything, but I had no complaints about the juicy, tender, grilled lamb cubes, or anything else on the plate. Diana and Kåre were happy with their dishes, too.
Since I have very little experience with Turkish food, I can't tell you how good Hasir is in the spectrum of Turkish restaurants, but considering how crowded this restaurant and the one next to it were (we had to wait a while for a table), I can tell you it's popular. ...I guess the six locations also gave that away.
The opposite of crowded was the sweets shop just down the block, Kılıçoğlu Baklavaci Gaziantep. My Googling tells me this is the baklava shop of someone with the surname Kılıçoğlu from, or preparing in the style of, Gaziantep, a city famous for making the best baklava in Turkey. (Is that like the baklava equivalent of a place called John's New York Bagels?) By the way, I don't know a lick of Turkish, so do excuse me if I'm putting words in the wrong order or getting all the Turkish things wrong.
The shop offered loads of different kinds of baklava, but I just wanted to get one piece for Kåre, who had never tried it before (say wuuut). Standing before the bounty of sugar-soaked phyllo dough chunks that laid behind the counter, I probably looked crazy stingy attempting to buy one measly piece of baklava, made more awkward by the proprietor only speaking a blend of Turkish, German, and mumbling. I emerged with just two pieces, even though the guy probably wanted me to buy ten. Not that I blame him.
Kåre's foil-wrapped piece steeped in syrup for days before he got around to eating it. First baklava experience = fail. I'll try again another time and make him eat the piece right away.
We parted ways with Diana and then the day was ove—NO NOT YET (this post is stupidly long; did you make it this far?). Kåre and I took a little stroll near our hotel around Nollendorfplatz. Unbeknownst to us, it's a gay-friendly area, and we passed a handful of unassuming boutique sex shops. I didn't take photos of them, but I did take a photo of an atypical pharmacy display...
For all your leather rubber sport urban and protein powder needs!
I'll finish off this post with the opposite of an unassuming boutique sex shop. BIG SEXYLAND! 3 KINO! NONSTOP! And a 24 hour cafe...if you're hungry?
Adalbertstraße 12, 10999 Berlin, Germany (map)
Kılıçoğlu Baklavaci Gaziantep
Adalbertstraße 9, 10999 Berlin, Germany (map)