My trip to Berlin was mainly to catch up with Klaus – a very good friend ever since we first met at the Roskilde Festival about 13y ago. While the Guns n Roses concert we attended was only average, it was still good fun to hang out together. I also enjoyed travelling back into the 80’s with the wall panorama of Kreuzberg. Short, but sweet time in Berlin. Need to come back one day for a little longer.
Beer somewhere in Pankow
Panorama & Berlin wall
Prior to the concert there was some time to explore a little bit of Berlin. For me it’s always a bit special to be here with quite a few memories ranging from partying at the love parade to high-end business trips. What i had actually never done properly was to visit the Berlin wall (or the leftovers). The memorial site is located close to the northern train station on Bernauer Strasse. While it is not the only place in Berlin where you can see the wall itself, the whole area (including death strip) has been preserved and gives a pretty realistic impression of how it used to look like.
Another great way of going back in time is the 360 degree “DIE MAUER” panorama by artist Yadegar Asisi – an artist who spent a lot of time in my hometown Dresden where he studied architecture in the 70’s and thus knows the East first hand himself. His work depicts fictious day in the 1980’s looking from the suburb of Kreuzberg to Berlin Mitte. The way the work is done makes you feel that you are standing right in the scenery and hence feels a bit like travelling back in time. Really recommended. In addition, there is a photo exhibition of wall stories and a making-of movie for his panoramas (lots of work!).
Guns n Roses
I have to admit that the acoustics (and also Axel’s vocals) didn’t match the big name by any stretch and was certainly not on my top end of concert experiences. Still, it’s always great to see the guys and rock away to some of their classics. You’d just expect a bit more at a venue such as the olympic stadium in Berlin. It turned into a long evening anyway, as transport issues prevented us from leaving after the concert – some more time with Klaus, Laura, Stefanie & her friend. Arguably, that didn’t make the journey to Barcelona next morning any easier … close call at the check-in ;o)
Team Schöfferhofer has managed its first outing though not the entire team on this occasion, as Felix sadly had other commitments. So it was down to max, steve and myself to light up Amsterdam. And so we did. My school time is now also up as i managed to get to B1 level in just 4 weeks. Next up is King’s day (27 April) when the country dresses up in orange and parties non stop to honour their king.
Team Schöfferhofer: The idea to do something else than just family occasions & christmas parties together came about last christmas. I guess it’s fair to say that everyone was up for it right away. Amsterdam was a good option to start as neither of us lives too far away with steve in Copenhagen and max studying in freiberg. Definitely easier than meeting in say Bangkok or Medellin … for now, anyway.
First up, we nailed the weekend weather wise. Summer temperatures from thursday through sunday. The sunburnt faces of steve and max tell the pretty story well! Thursday we had say good introductory night in the center (which unavoidably includes the red light district being the center). The old sailor and excalibur made for good places to hang out, at least until they closed.
Friday, Steve and Max went on a free tour (see Amsterdam walking tour: Fun facts) while I dragged myself to school on this fine day. By late afternoon we were back together and enjoyed a pretty hot afternoon. After loads of bitterballs (basically our main source of food for the entire weekend) and a few beers we explored town a bit more, but didn’t make it a too big one in the end.
Bitterballen (plural of bitterbal) are a Dutch meat-based snack (similar to a coquette), typically containing a mixture of beef or veal (minced or chopped), beef broth, butter, flour for thickening, parsley, salt and pepper, resulting in a thick roux. It is usually served with mustard. See wikipedia for more.
Cycle tour in & around Amsterdam: Saturday was again looking great and we all felt in reasonably good shape. Our aim was to get on the bikes and cycle to the Ijsselmeer (great suggestion Max), some 15km away. Technically speaking we didn’t go to the Ijsselmeer, but the Markermeer since the Houtribdijk dam split the original Ijsselmeer into two (since 1975). The ride was pretty enjoyable. First through the north-eastern center of the city and then out into the nature on cycle path along canals and relaxed suburbs.
We made it to Blijburg aan Zee for lunch (=bitterballs) and relaxed in the beach bar. I need to go back there some time in the evening. Seems they have some good parties there! While we enjoyed the views, weather and beers … others went further with many people hitting the water (pretty cold as we would find out later that day). Proper Ostsee vibe! We took a slightly different way back and rode mostly along a dam to get back to Amsterdam. Good decision for we got to see the Ij brewery (Brouwerij Ij) with its windmill, which supplies the beer for my local pub back in Haarlemmerbuurt.
Indicative route … poor navigation skills & sightseeing curiosity added to the mileage
Once back in the city we headed for Rembrandtsquare to watch a bit of footie (ManU vs T’ham in FA cup semi’s) and, would you believe it, ate something else than bitterballs … 3x sushi please! That actually tasted healthy. Football was a bit dull, but after stopping in another cool place (the bushdoctor) the evening kicked off in good fashion.
First Steve succumbed to his 80’s music desire. Just imagine Rembrandt square around which you’ll find plenty of bars. One of them was already pumping late afternoon while the others just got going slowly. It was a bar that let’s say attracted the generation of our parents more than people of younger age … what a laugh! Can’t quite recall which other places we visited (naturally crossing through the red light district again & stopping at my favorite pub -De Sluyswacht) before we eventually headed home.
On the way we also tested the waters of the IJ river. Cold exercise! And good to have Max giving a helping hand to get Max & myself out again. Pretty slippery stuff. I guess the folks in my local corner pub were a little confused by the wet hair given it hadn’t rained in days (for a change). But surely, after a swim in the Ij we deserved a beer from the Ij brewery. Tasty!
And then the first Schöfferhofer outing was almost over. After lunch and a stroll in Vandelpark and Museumsplein, Max went to the airport while Steve & I watched the other FA cup semi – Chelsea vs Southampton (2:0) before he also left for Copenhagen.
Good stuff! Next time hopefully with Felix. Apparently its gonna take us to Tallinn, where Max will study abroad. Can’t wait!
Dutch course done: This week also marked the end of my second level Dutch language studies. Having skipped the A1/A2 course, I ‘graduated’ with B1 (intermediate). It was fun studying with Katya, Abdo & Akin as well as our teachers. Good luck to everyone & hope to see you again. Now we need to put theory into practice. Maar dat is nu geen grote probleem meer, denk ik! And remember: ‘Mannen en ook vrouwen zijn mensen’.
It appears I managed to miss the first good weekend in Amsterdam (weather wise) by being in London. Anyway, it has markedly improved making wandering about town much more enjoyable. To my surprise, my dad was here for a few days, so after I don’t how many years, we could catch up on life. Right after my sister arrived and we enjoyed a day on the bikes and an entertaining time with her friends. I am back at school as well.
Surprising catch-up with dad: I haven’t had much contact with my dad throughout my life. In fact, the last time we met is more than 10y ago. We are, however, on facebook where he did congragulate me on my Lhotse summit last year. On the occasion of his birthday last week I asked if his river cruise would take him to Amsterdam anytime. To my surprise, he said that he will be here only few days later. Time to catch up with what has happened over the years, other siblings, relationships etc. Hope we won’t wait another 10y for the next time.
Cruising the canals with sister’s friends: Frances was the first to book a flight to come and visit. Her visit turned out to coincide with that of herr good friend Johanna who visited their common Amsterdam based friends. They have been here for a while and own a canal boat. After a solid day out on the bikes (a first for both of us in AMsterdam), we had a great time floating around in Amsterdam with the friends and finished it off with a nice dinner at their local restaurant. Even the weather played ball and provided for a fair amount of sunshine on the fine afternoon. Thanks again!
Upgrade at school: I decided to take another 2w of Dutch classes. When interviewed on the phone (something i didn’t immediately realised), the head teacher suggested to skip the A1/2 level and go straight for A2/B1 – a level I am working on still for Russian and Spanish. German knowledge clearly helps. The class is pretty fun with 3 new faces (Abdo from Lebanion, Katya from Moscow, Akin from Jamaica) though i can feel the step-up in level and homework now takes a little longer than I was used to. But its coming together. I guess one grows with its challenges.
Fun night out with the Irish: Sean, an Irish chef, I met pretty early on in Amsterdam. A man with an incredible amount of optimism! He invvited me out while his friends were visiting. Great fun to hang out in my favorite Irish pub on Rembrandtsplein and a coffee shop nearby, confusion included ;o)
“I arrived in Amsterdam with three fucking lighters and have none left. I am here not even 24 hours!”
Christmas in Germany kicks off pretty early on the 24th in the evening (usually with the closest family), followed by two bank holidays that are usually spent with either set of grandparents (mum’s side and dad’s side).
Striezelmarkt: Before we even got to the delights of this years’ xmas, we enjoyed a day on one of Germany’s most famous xmas markets in Dresden. 8 degrees plus didn’t really give it an authentic xmas feeling, but heh. First up a long overdue catch up with Sandra, a former fellow Commerzbanker. She was part of the insane group of people to offer me a job many years ago ;o) Then straight into mulled wine, snacks and shopping with Alex, mum and sister. Good times. Even had the time to catch up with my cousin Denise and the family of her better half. Great evening!
Take me to church: People from Saxony are mostly not religious. Those that are tend to be protestant – a statue of Martin Luther in front of the Frauenkirche (Dresden) underlines that. Our family has always been protestant yet we didn’t visit Church all that often and usually only on Dec 24th. Could be a byproduct of anti-religious policies in East Germany (the central government disliked competition) or that freely available schooling made a lot of the wanna be believers i meet in London redundant (‘pay or prey’ to get your kid into a good school). Who knows. Anyway, after a brief stop in my home village Naundorf and granddad Kaiser, we made it to church in Struppen and enjoyed this year’s nativity play. Always good fun.
Kartoffelsalat: Most of my fellow students in Russia will remember my praises for my mum’s potato salat. A tradition in Germany in most families. Each mum has her own recipe passed on from previous generations. Add a few frankfurters and you have a basic yet tasty meal … and afterwards its time for presents. Dominated by lego sets this year. I got 5 finger shoes … as inspired by ‘Born to Run’. Lets see if it helps me reducing running related injuries.
Stollen in Dresden: After our family trek to the Barbarinea, we visited granddad in Dresden. Like the one in Naundorf, he lives by himself and so we usually just swing by for coffee instead of a full festive meal. Part of any coffee that time of the year has to be Stollen (Stollen is a cake-like fruit bread, see here). And there is none better than the one from Dresden! Taaaaasty!
Goose & green dumplings: Traditionally the 2nd bank holiday is reserved for dad’s side of the family. Originally we picked that day due to them being busy on the first bank holioday serving xmas lunches to guests in our restaurant, while they closed the 2nd. Now I guess it’s a routine even though the restaurant is just a B&B by now. A lot of the lot i hadn’t seen for a year (and some like Steve’s new girlfriend Anastasia not at all really) and so we discussed a bit the Lhotse adventures and future plans. Food is always excellent including tasty & tender goose, dumpling (Klösse) made with raw potatoes giving them a slightly green-ish colour and red cabbage. Wine is also never in short supply teaditionally kicikng off with a glass of Pinot as aperitif. Its tradition in Thuringia where my grandma is from … and tradition matters (and is super tasty).
Alex’ christmas holidays started pretty early this year leaving a whole week before x-mas eve would arrive. Given my apartment is rented out anyway I figured time (&money) is much better spent on the slopes than trying to kill time in London cinema’s or Museums. Alex loves Chamonix anyway – the place of his first time outdoor rock climbing & canyoning (see here) and home of Mt Blanc. Many happy memories for him.
The trip was arguably at the cost of my first year almost without a x-mas lunch had it not been for my good friends Sara & Paul who I visited on the one night i had between Colombia and Chamonix. Both kids including my godson Bobby were thrilled and we had a great time together. In the morning the kids could even reunite with Alex … the only small disappointment when i rocked up alone the night before.
The way to Chamonix wasn’t too bad though with some delays and heavy bags given i carried my snowboard on top of winter clothing and presents. No one was happier than my little prince when we finally got to our destination … temperatures well below zero and loads of snow. Alex wasted no time getting his gloves wet (although he had an entirely different perspective on this). Thankfully the girls from ‘Chalet le Chatelle’ picked us up quickly and soon we hit the bed. I was devastated having had my last full nights’ sleep in a bed 4 days prior in Colombia!
The next days were simply great fun as usual. After 15cm on Monday (read: no sun), we were blessed with great conditions and few other skiers. 3,5 days of good snow action! Alex on ski’s (we’ll try snowboard in Austria in Feb’18) and me on snowboard. His first red run (le cornu in Brevent) still caused some tears, but I know his level and by day two the piste had become his favourite). No issues after that one run, as he rediscovered his confidence. We spent time mostly in nearby Brevent and la Flegere, but also Grand Montets – dominated by red pistes and with a great run all the way down into the valley.
Evenings were usually dedicated to a Tartiflette at ‘elevation 1904’ (tasty & good value at eur11) or the odd raclette in town, the chalet’s hot tub (his russian soul coming to the fore big time ;o) and movie time. Quality boys time!