Berlin Summer

Happy Swiss National Day everyone and greetings from Berlin! It’s great to be back in our neighbourhood, to catch up with our local friends as well as our visiting friends.

Top left and clockwise; Christoph and I joined the party on Christopher Street Day, I finally got to hoon around the city with friends in my little Hot Rod, sharing the fun of bouldering with little AG and Christoph giving AH a lift when she was visiting us with her dad, CH.

Top left and clockwise; Christoph and I joined the party on Christopher Street Day, I finally got to hoon around the city with friends in my little Hot Rod, sharing the fun of bouldering with little AG and Christoph giving AH a lift when she was visiting us with her dad, CH.

Despite the unpredictable weather, we’ve been thoroughly enjoying being outdoors, on our bikes and sharing our love of Berlin with our wonderful friends. We have another few days with our current visitor, BF, and then we’ll head north to visit Christoph’s mum.

A good friend told me a long time ago that the three keys to happiness is to have someone to love, something to do each day and something to look forward to. We try to keep that in mind whenever we make plans and I can tell you that so far, this summer has been a blast! Hope your summer (or winter, for those in the southern hemisphere) is too! Happy Days!

The Travelling Sisters Are At It Again!

Linh joined me couple of weeks ago and we began our tour through the Baltic States. Christoph and I had been there before and I really wanted to share it with my sister. We had an added bonus that a Shanghai friend of mine, VB, also happened to be in Europe this summer and joined us for the second half of the trip.

Linh and I met in Berlin and made our way to Warsaw-Vilnius-Riga-Tallinn-Helsinki. VB joined us in Riga and once we three reached Helsinki, Linh went on to London while VB and I flew back to Berlin.

Top left and clockwise: Warsaw National Opera Theatre, University of Warsaw Library rooftop garden, open-air concert in Vilnius, re-enacting the start of the Baltic Way, Vilnius.

Top left and clockwise: Warsaw National Opera Theatre, University of Warsaw Library rooftop garden, open-air concert in Vilnius, re-enacting the start of the Baltic Way, Vilnius.

Linh and I had a very pleasant train ride from Berlin to Warsaw. That evening, we went to the National Opera Theatre, a fabulous building, and saw the European Union Youth Orchestra play. We then spent the following days exploring the Old Town, the gardens at the Warsaw University Library, the Riverside and a local neighbourhood with Vietnamese markets where we ate quite good Vietnamese food.

Warsaw was followed by Vilnius, a city I loved from my last visit. We were there during the Assumption and so we visited many of the churches while services were underway. We joined a walking tour and found out that Vilnius was in its hey-day considered ‘the Jeruselam of Europe.’ They once had a population comprising of roughly 58,000 Jews and by the end of WWII, only about 2,000 Jews were left. It’s such a violent and regrettable history.

Top left and clockwise: Art Nouveau District, Riga, the interiors of the beautiful buildings, Linh at the Tallinn Old Town, the end of the Baltic Way, Tallinn. 

Top left and clockwise: Art Nouveau District, Riga, the interiors of the beautiful buildings, Linh at the Tallinn Old Town, the end of the Baltic Way, Tallinn. 

We continued our trip with a luxurious bus ride to Riga where we met VB. If you have an interest in Art Nouveau, Riga would be the place for you. It has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. Also, more and more buildings are gradually being restored each year and walking around the already beautiful district is just stunning. From Riga we again took a bus to Tallinn and soaked in the Old Town and its sights. Keep Tallinn in mind as I won’t be surprised when Tallinn, Estonia pops up to become a leading force in the culinary scene in 5 or so years. The food and beverage were sensational.

Top left and clockwise: at the Sibelius Monument, Helsinki, the amazing Temppeliaukio Church and finally back to Berlin’s East-Side Gallery.

Top left and clockwise: at the Sibelius Monument, Helsinki, the amazing Temppeliaukio Church and finally back to Berlin’s East-Side Gallery.

From Tallinn, a short ferry ride delivered us to Helsinki. The city unfortunately looks quite drab, which is most probably due to the long cold winters. But being faced with those long cold spells, the Fins became fantastic at creating cosy indoor environments. We explored the Design District, popped into many boutique stores, visited the Design Museum and Arabia Design Centre. The city blew me away with its love of all things aesthetically pleasing. An absolute highlight was the Temppeliaukio Church, or also known as the Rock Church. Designed in 1961 with construction completed in 1969, it is a church of which I have never before seen nor imagined. I am determined to re-visit Helsinki with Christoph in tow... along with an empty suitcase!

Heatwave Escape

What a summer hey? It feels almost like an Australian summer in Berlin with temperatures reaching 38 degrees celsius! No worries, we had a last minute change of plans with visitors and found that we suddenly had more time togther before Christoph’s summer vacation ended. So, with such high temperatures, we decided to rent a car and head north to the famed lake district of Mecklenbürgische Seenplatte.

Müritz Lake

Müritz Lake

We weren’t sure if we were going to drive the two hours there, spend the day and head back to Berlin in the evening or stay in the area for the night. In any case, we packed a bag just in case it was too pretty to leave.

Well, it was too pretty to leave and I was so glad we were prepared because the area was so beautiful and relaxing! The water was cooling, the gentle breeze was greatly welcomed and we found a lovely hotel to stay at that was once a military barracks. What a great building!

Top left and clockwise: the Gutshaus in Ludorf, reception area, the exhibition room and our room for the night which was originally the smoking room :o)

Top left and clockwise: the Gutshaus in Ludorf, reception area, the exhibition room and our room for the night which was originally the smoking room :o)

After a day of driving and swimming, the hotel was a perfect place to spend the night. The next morning, we enjoyed a luxurious breakfast and decided to explore a little further north to Uckermünde beach where Angela Merkel used to spend her summers.

Uckermünde Beach

Uckermünde Beach

We really enjoyed our little getaway and I love seeing and learning more about Germany each time I visit. And the bonus was that we came back to a Berlin that was cooling down; perfect!!

Summer Fun

Christoph and I have been thoroughly enjoying our time in Berlin; the slow mornings, long walks, various coffee houses and just being outdoors in the warmth and under clear blue skies makes us happy.

Last Tuesday, we took a train to Hamburg, stayed overnight and visited Christoph’s mum the next day. We had lunch at the Hotel Atlantic which, I didn’t know at the time, is an iconic landmark in Hamburg. It’s also iconic for being the home to Udo Lindenberg, an über famous German rocker, musician and composer who has lived in the hotel for 23 years! So cool!

After lunch we took a walk around the Alster and gawked at the many huge mansions on Schöne Aussicht (that’s the street name, ‘Beautiful View’) and Bellevue (another street meaning ‘Beautiful View’). We stopped frequently for drinks and to watch the people running, walking and paddling by. A great way to spend the day.

We then visited Christoph’s mum in Bordeshölm the next day and had another relaxed and easy time together. In the afternoon, we took the train from Bordeshölm to Hamburg with a connection to Berlin. We arrived with an hour to spare and decided to grab light dinner before taking our 20:34h train. We were back at the station at 20:30h to find out that our train had been delayed and due to depart at the new time of 21:50h. Ugh. There was a brief storm earlier in the day and the delay involved the fire department. Christoph had a sneaky suspicion that the delay will be longer so we went to see if we could rent a car. Two car rental places had run out of cars and we finally found one that technically didn’t have anything left but the nice man at the counter freed a car up for us. 21:00h we were in a car and on the way back to Berlin. While on the road, we kept an eye on the train schedule and saw that the train had indeed been delayed once again, due to depart at 23:15h to arrive in Berlin at 01:30h. You can just imagine how glad we were that we didn’t sit around and wait for the train.

Top and clockwise: Christoph learning about film sets, the garden from a TV story, a typical scene from the Middle Ages, the set for the Three Musketeers show.

Top and clockwise: Christoph learning about film sets, the garden from a TV story, a typical scene from the Middle Ages, the set for the Three Musketeers show.

We got back to Berlin very tired but happy that it worked out somehow. As we had the car for 24 hours, we thought to make the most of it. We ran errands in the morning and in the afternoon, drove out to the Babelsberg Filmpark which is attached to the famous Babelsberg Film Studios. The Babelsberg Film Studios are ‘the Hollywood studios’ of Germany and according to Wikipedia are ‘the oldest large-scale film studios in the world, producing films since 1912’. We always thought to take a look but one needs a car to get there or else it’s a very long bus ride. So off we went to the Filmpark. This is my description of it: You know those B-rated horror movies where a group of friends break into an abandoned theme park and find themselves getting murdered one after the other by a psychotic themepark caretaker? Well this would be the perfect setting. The Filmpark was built in 1991 but feels much older. It has various interactive shows; the stunt show at the volcano, the animal show, the three musketeers... all performed by the same people ;o) If you have a chance, there are many other things to see in Potsdam, you can skip this ‘highlight’.

And The Summer Continues...

Yes I am still in Berlin! Woohoo! Christoph is back in Shanghai battling the high humidity and heat while I continue my German language immersion through fun activities like bike riding and yoga. I recently spent a day riding through Potsdam with a friend, ED, and in between coffee breaks and gelato breaks, we managed to see a lot of what the area has to offer.

A brilliant day in Potsdam. Here at the Babelsberg Castle.

A brilliant day in Potsdam. Here at the Babelsberg Castle.

I love the freedom that comes from being on a bike. You travel faster than walking but slow enough to soak in your surroundings and stop at the very last minute when you see something you like. We were riding towards Glienicke Bridge (for those of you who saw the film 'The Bridge of Spies', well that's the bridge) I caught a glimpse of a stunning garden behind a wall that I coudn't resist but to investigate. Lo and behold, we had accidentally stumbled onto the Villa Schöningen which dates back to 1843. The villa has a tumultous history and after many years of neglect, it is now an exhibition venue and part of the Berlin-Potsdam's UNESCO World Heritage Site. Should you ever find yourself in this particular part of world, this house and garden by a significant bridge is worth seeking out.

Top left and clockwise: The Glienicke Bridge in the distance, part of the Wall that ran past the villa - can you spot Merkel's signature?, the villa's garden, there's Angela!

Top left and clockwise: The Glienicke Bridge in the distance, part of the Wall that ran past the villa - can you spot Merkel's signature?, the villa's garden, there's Angela!

It was an excellent day of discovery and I can't wait to get Christoph out here with me next summer!

A Chinese European Holiday

Almost every country in the world has seen an influx of Chinese tourists in some form or other. The projection for Europe will be 5.5 million inbound Chinese tourists for 2017, a 10% increase from 2016 (I'm double-checking these numbers as they appear to be too low, will update when I find out for sure). The latest catch phrase for them is that 'They are out of the buses and into the rental cars.'

Chinese drivers have been causing a lot of chaos on European roads, well, many of them anyway. The German Autobahn has always been a popular experience for visitors but now with many driving from Italy, through France, Switzerland and Germany, it's been a learning experience for all. If you've been to Switzerland, you'll remember the many winding mountain passes. What's been happening this summer on Swiss mountain passes is that the Chinese drivers are, instead of staying in their lanes, driving on the dividing line. They then stop in the middle of the road, get out and take scenic photos all the while with a bevy of cars behind them.

Image source: newlyswissed.ch, The Grimsel Pass

Image source: newlyswissed.ch, The Grimsel Pass

The Swiss are great mountain drivers, they even roll their eyes at Dutch tourist drivers, who live in a very flat country, so you can just imagine how annoyed they would be at Chinese drivers. I do sympathize with all tourist drivers driving through Switzerland though. When we lived there, it freaked me out driving on those narrow winding roads. Christoph urged me to do it regularly for practice. My first time driving up and down a mountain was NOT fun. I did not dare look out my side window in case I steered us down the side of the mountain! Mind you, it was also raining that day... great.

Another faux pas that happened recently was in Berlin where two Chinese tourists were arrested for taking photos of themselves doing Nazi salutes in front of the Parliament building (they were each fined 500 EUR and have continued their vacation outside of Germany). The Chinese government has been doing its part to try and circumvent such cultural misunderstandings. Our Chinese friends tell us that the moment they switch their mobile phones on in Europe, they instantly receive numerous messages reminding them to keep up China's image by respecting the cultural dos and don'ts while vacationing. The messages will most probably add tips on driving and photo-taking as well now.

Happy summer everyone!

Now It Really Begins!

Christoph and I are back together again and he is now 100% on vacation! Yay! Though the weather has to still work out what it wants to do, we at least had a dry day yesterday and spent it on a long walk through the city. And as one does, we included plenty of intermittent beverage stops to make sure we had the strength the keep going ;o)

Things change or come and go, but much of the city remains vibrant and dynamic. During each of our visits, we find it wonderful how much we still admire our 'second home'.

Grey but still a cool place. 

Grey but still a cool place. 

We now have two whole weeks of summer together and plan to make the most of it. Lots of reading, sleeping in, bike-riding, eating and hopefully we can squeeze in a music event or two. Living life to the fullest baby!