Berlin: Legoland Experience

I’d love to say that I enjoyed the Legoland Experience in Berlin, located beneath the Sony Centre in Potzdamer Platz. I’d love to, but I can’t – I’ve been to a conference you know; none of this sightseeing malarky for me.

Having said that, whilst visiting the Mauerfall celebrations I stumbled upon the entrance, and I don’t often get the chance to post gratuitous pictures of Lego…

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As a complete aside, that night we also stumbled upon the European premier of 2012, with Amanda Peet and John Cusack on the red carpet at the Sony Centre, surrounded by photographers. Perhaps unfortunate, then, that all the crowds were elsewhere, walking along the lines of dominoes, drinking gluhwein.

Places to eat in Berlin: Grenander

Lets get this straight right of the bat: Grenander is not a restaurant. Sure, it’s open in the evening and it does light meals (think: soup and a roll). However, it’s really a cafe (‘cafehaus and icecream’,  says  my receipt).

Coffee and cake is a deep-seated German tradition. You really must indulge, but beware that this is no piffling, tiny piece of sponge cake we’re talking about – oh no. Coffee and cakes demands a huge, sumptuous piece of one of a range of marvellous gateaux. Picture a huge Black Forest Gateau (Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte) and you’re in the right place.

Right across the road from the Wittenbergplatz, not far from KaDeWe, Grenander is easy to find and quite welcoming. It’s not very big, though, so you’d better hope it’s not busy.

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Places to eat in Berlin: Mola

Mola is opposite the Wittenbergplatz U-bahn station, just along the Ku’damme from KaDeWe. It’s not the most sophisticated restaurant you’ll find, but it’s a wonderfully authentic Italian restaurant.

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The first thing you’ll notice is the marvellously jovial owner (at least I think he was the owner) who welcomes you in Italian. The next thing that you’ll notice is the large traditional pizza oven, with the pizza chef making fresh pizza by hand right in front of you.

I wouldn’t pretend that the menu is sophisticated, but the pizzas are wonderfully tasty, authentic thin Italian pizzas. The staff are jolly, friendly and helpful and the overall atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed. They also serve Warsteiner. It’s going back a log way, but my childhood pen-friends in Hamm, in the west of Germany always used to maintain that Warsteiner was their favourite bier (much better than Krombacher, I recall).

Places to eat in Berlin: La Sepia

Anybody who knows me well will tell you that I am prone to waxing lyrical about Portugal. Whilst I haven’t been there for a good few years now, it was a regular destination for my family when I was younger and I have strong, fond memories of the place and its food.

Imagine my surprise then, when we found a Portuguese/Spanish restaurant just a few minutes away from our hotel. La Sepia is on Marburger Strasse, just off Ku’damme.

Cue a random mix from our blogger of broken German and broken Portuguese – all the staff we spoke to were native Portuguese, as far as I could tell.

Sadly, they only offer bacalhao a bras (Portuguese salt cod) during the day, but in addition to a range of tapas and a fabulous choice of fresh fish, a number of different dishes cooked in the traditional cataplana were on offer.

The cataplana is a traditional Portuguese cooking pot. Imagine a wok; now add another wok which closes against first on a hinge, like a clam. It clamps shut, making something a little bit like a pressure cooker.

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Tourists who visit the Algarve will have seen cataplana on the menus of many restaurants. Mostly, that means pork and clams, cooked in the cataplana. La Sepia offer this, of course, but also have other dishes. I plumped for monkfish, cooked in the cataplana. The dish is a bit like a stew – big chunks of monkfish, potatoes and other vegetables in a sauce which is a mixture of tomato and fish. Take it from me – it’s great. Just make sure you save some bread to mop up the sauce!

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A wide range of Portuguese wine fill a lengthy wine list. We settled on a nice Vino Verde – a light, slightly sparkling fresh white (literally translated to English as green wine). To finish, a bica – the strong Portuguese coffee which makes espresso look weak.

Overall, a place I can heartily recommend. You can bet that I’ll try to make it back during the day for bacalhao a bras before we leave Berlin.

Places to eat in Berlin: Coa

It’s becoming a tradition that every time I attend a conference or travel anywhere interesting I post at least a couple of places to eat. Perhaps ironically, none of the places I am about to post about serve cuisine that you could reasonable call German.

It’s true – we’ve done coffee and cake – that well known German tradition. In an evening, however, besides our hotel we have been to a Chinese, an oriental fusion place and a Portuguese and Spanish restaurant.

A general warning to those eating out in Berlin – do not take for granted that the place you choose will take plastic – many don’t, and you should at least be prepared to pay cash.

Of those, the fusion restaurant was the first place we ate – Coa. Situated right in Potzdamer Platz it was an obvious choice early in our stay as we wandered around the dominoes of Mauerfall.

If you like noodles, you’ll do just fine here. The cuisine is an interesting mix of Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Japanese. The surroundings are stylish, the service is friendly (and happy to converse in English) and the food is excellent. There is a great range of dishes from dim sum to noodles and everything we had was well prepared and tasty.

20 Jahre Mauerfall

Monday night saw the official celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the historic events which saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and paved the way for German reunification.

Sadly, the night was cold and wet – the rain was falling in torrents as we made our way to Potsdamer Platz and walked towards the Brandenburg Gate. We managed to stand right next to one of the large screens on which proceedings were to be shown – next to the gate and near the dominoes which were to topple during the night.

Cold it may have been, but the atmosphere was warm and friendly, with people from all over the world joining the celebrations. Within a few feet of us were some French students, Americans from across the USA, Italians, Germans, and Yorkshiremen.

The evening was a great mix of culture and spectacle. We were treated to opera (with a distinguished-looking Placido Domingo), the Berlin Philharmonic with Daniel Barenboim conducting, Bon Jovi and some other most likely very popular German bands that I’d never heard of.

There were also plenty of speeches from German and other European leaders, along with Lech Walesa and Michael Gorbechev (sorry if I’ve mis-spelled either of those – I’m composing with no internet connection).

The whole event was punctuated by the toppling of dominoes, which turned out to be done in stages, and topped off with a fireworks display over the Brandenburg Gate.

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Once over, a sea of people flowed to the U- and S-Bahns. It’s a testament to the efficiency of Berlin public transport that the sea of people managed to quickly pile onto a succession of trains to be whisked away from Potsdamer Platz.

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Most definitely a night to remember.

Ich bin ein Berliner

As you may know, TechE d 2009 EMEA is in Berlin this year. You may also know that this year is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’m here in Berlin, which means that I’ll try to blog what’s going on at TechEd. However, this post is all about the really cool idea Berlin has for the celebrations!

We arrived on Saturday and went out to Potsdamer Platz, not far from the Brandenburg Gate and German Parliament. We hadn’t heard about the 1000 dominoes, so we were really surprised and impressed.

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The line begins at Potsdamer Platz (where there’s a really cool sledding slope, too) and snakes it’s way past the Brandenburg Gate to the new government buildings. Each domino is about 7 feet tall, and is uniquely decorated. Next to every domino is a small plaque telling you who did the artwork and, if your german is up to is, which mine isn’t quite, their thoughts about the piece. Some are truly startling, and they have been painted by everyone, from schoolchildren to artists to local companies and charities. On the 9th of November, the day the wall came down, those dominoes will be toppled.

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You can follow the line all the way to the end, and there are thousands of people doing just that – all day and night. There are also wurst stalls, bier stands and stands selling gluhwein to ward off the cold. The atmosphere is absolutely fantastic!

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These pictures don’t really do it justice – I took them with my phone on Saturday night. I have more taken with my EOS but I’ve not sorted them yet, and I wanted to get this post up.

The TV crews must be having a field day. There is an incredible amount of technical gear here – cameras on tripods; cameras on cranes; and one really cool camera on a wire track ready to chase the falling dominoes.

The Brandenburg Gate is all lit up and has big grandstands around it, ready for the festivities.

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The building where the line ends is this fabulous work of modern architecture housing the national library.

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The big celebrations for Berlin Mauerfall are tonight. TechEd has carefully arranged it’s schedules so we have time to get there and join in. Here’s hoping the weather is good.