Winter might be the ideal time to live like a local, experiencing the after-holiday reality of everyday life.
I've visited most of the top tourist sites before--Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, sections of the Berlin Wall. This time I'm going to focus on "free" Berlin, the tiny museums and monuments and neighborhood events and shops that keep locals connected to their roots.
But that doesn't necessarily mean bratwurst and beer. I'm staying in a neighborhood with a heavy Turkish influence, where some donor kebab eateries are open 24/7 and greengrocers (4 big ones within 3 blocks) compete to sell the freshest spinach, clementines and tomatoes that I've ever seen during winter. When I lived in Paris, I enjoyed stopping at the grocer's or buying fruit and vegetables from street vendors. I miss that in the United States, where items at outdoor markets are often pricey.
Having a kitchen to cook in is a bonus here, though my son-in-law's creative vegetarian dishes put my simple fare (such as potato latkes) to shame. He has made roasted vegetable strudel, red-pepper and mushroom pizza, crepes stuffed with spinach and tomato, cumin-scented chickpea stew, babaganoush and hummus. The bagels he made this morning, after a trip last night to a BioMarkt (which specializes in organic and healthy products) for malt and protein flour, could win a bagel contest.
Berlin is best seen on long walks through the Tiergarten, especially in early evening when the old gaslights are lighting up, or in the ornate gardens at Charlottenburg Schloss, where ducks and swans greedily nibble your stale bread.
Maybe it's because I was raised Roman Catholic, but I've always liked old churches. With my daughter and son-in-law, I attended the Christmas Eve service at the Berliner Dom, where statues of Luther and Calvin are perched on pedestals high above the congregation. Gold glitters in the dome, and the massive organ seems to thunder even when played softly.
On to today's adventures.