Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Tag: Berlin

Right Down Santa Claus Lane

by lyzpfister

In Berlin, there’s a Christmas market on every corner.  Really.  Every corner. There’s Gendarmenmarkt and Opernpalais – classy affairs – while the market at Alexanderplatz is a sprawling menagerie of fun houses, fair rides, and staggering, drunken teenagers.  But even besides these large Christmas markets (and those aren’t nearly all of them), there are tiny markets tucked into strange corners, scant strips of wooden houses lined up along the street, as if wherever you go, you absolutely, positively, need to be within arm’s length of Glühwein, gingerbread hearts, and 3-foot long sausages.

Of course.

But there is a certain amount of charm to these closely clustered cottages, though the markets are all relatively alike. Wandering through some of the larger, maze-like getups, you almost forget, for a moment, that you’re actually in the middle of a city. As if you’ve been stuck into a blown up fairy tale land, powdered sugar snow and gingerbread houses.

Bundled-up bands of people huddle around warm places – in Potsdamer Platz, there are tall fire pits, at Alexanderplatz, cylindrical heat lamps – and depending on where you are, these groups of people are students joking about their classmates, or whispering, huddled couples, or Prolls in pink velvet sweatpants and slick and shiny, black down-filled jackets. Conspicuously absent are young children, at least during the evenings, which is when I manage to make it to the Christmas markets. These gaudy shacks, stacks of candy, and carousel rides are for grownups? Na, cool, as the Germans say.

Last week, we walked around the Alexanderplatz market, and when it started to rain, we posted ourselves under the corner of a cottage and sipped Glühwein out of mugs shaped like little blue boots. We people-watched and gossiped, huddling closer together as the rain shifted from a fine mist to an insistent, thick-dropped drizzle. On the way out, we passed the flying swings, circling high in the air at a dizzying clip, almost twice as high as any flying swings I’d seen before. We’d hurried past the swings quickly on the way in, saying, never, no, absolutely never could we be induced to sit in one of those chairs. “Let’s do it,” I said, and impulsively, Elisabeth agreed. As the chairs began to swing and lift up into the air, we were amazed at how easily we’d convinced ourselves to ride. High over the fair, the wind was icy and pellets of rain stung our faces as we whipped around. But the pinpricks of light below were beautiful and in the cold there was a calm silence. Back on the ground again, surrounded by the chatter of the emptying fair, last calls for toasted nuts and bratwursts, we looked up at the swings starting to rise again, amazed at what a little Glühwein made us do.

Love is Wherever You Find It

by lyzpfister

Warm murmur, glasses clinking, candlelight, the smell of herbs and browned butter, a room full of people crammed around a long, improvised table, a whole roasted turkey. Thanksgiving in Berlin, beautiful.

Jamie and I have spent all morning cooking. Turkey with herbs and butter and apple cider gravy, bratwurst, apple and cranberry stuffing, celeriac and potato mash, carrots glazed in sherry, green beans in toasted walnut vinaigrette, cranberry nut rolls, roasted sweet potatoes with sage, kale and Brussels sprouts salad, apple pie, pumpkin pie… All of the good things Thanksgiving means. Elisabeth comes home around one after a long day at school and a quick shopping trip for some last minute menu items, and begins to set up the living room. At three, a quick pick-me-up (vodka/muddled orange, mint, brown sugar/goji berry smoothie), and back to work. We sneak finger-fuls of gravy base at regular intervals, dance around the kitchen to tacky party pop with whisks, improvise baking dishes from cake pans, toast with cans of champagne.

Our guests arrive between six and seven, I slip into my party dress, purchased at a vintage store last weekend in Paris, wipe flour from my face. We work through until eight – the last minute touches to a big dinner party – adding the olive oil to a dressing of Dijon, shallots, garlic, and sherry vinegar whose flavors have been melding all day, pouring pan juices into gravy base, shrieking at how good the gravy is, grating parmesan.

Everyone is seated at the table. Elisabeth and I make a toast, piles of food behind us. I look around at the table of people – new friends and old – and remember why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, no matter where I am or who I’m celebrating it with. It’s about sharing what you have, being together, being thankful, loving, and allowing yourself to be loved.

Welcome Home, Berlin

by lyzpfister

It’s been a long time, I know.  But I just haven’t had the inclination to write.  I’ve been doing other things – like moving out of New York, studying for the GRE, hiking in Colorado, making a beautiful assortment of to-do lists – and really, I just haven’t been inspired to write anything.  I’ve felt like every time I sit down to blog, I devolve into blasé maxims: food is good, food is love, food brings people together.  And I think all these things are true, but eventually, it’s boring for you to read – and boring for me to write.  I needed something new.

As I sat at my new kitchen table in Berlin, I was reminded of an entry I wrote long ago about sardines on toast.  This blog was begun as a class project almost three years ago, and when I first started blogging about food, I felt that every entry should be thoroughly researched – a blend of fact and memoir – though if you read through those early posts, they sound stilted.  The missing element, my advisor said, was spontaneity.  That day, I had a simple lunch – toasted baguette, butter, sardines – and the food was so good and unadorned, I immediately felt inspired to write about it.  I’ve written about the sardines and the writing since.

I think I keep coming back to that moment because it encapsulates an essential truth about both food and writing.  That both are acts of some skill rescued by intuition and a certain amount of receptiveness, and that sometimes a lesson is felt rather than explained.

Driving down the streets of Berlin from the airport to my new home, I felt both terrified and excited, thinking at the same time how wonderful it would be to grow attached to these streets, and yet, how different they were from my Brooklyn streets.  What possessed me to do this?  Why leave a place I love for a place I don’t know with streets that don’t belong to me and straight-edged buildings that all look the same?

And yet, every place looks all the same at the beginning.  Davidson was a sea of brick and white pillars, Brooklyn a slew of bodegas and graffitied grates, New York noise.  I came to love these places and the people in them until every detail – the worn dirt path cheated across the corner of the lawn on the way to the library, the brothers’ bodega with fresh, cheap cilantro, the bodega with the case of Polish specialties – was a disparate marker of my place.

I remembered this sitting at a kitchen table, the place where I feel the most safe.  And I don’t wonder that my first meal in Germany is one that represents, for me, inspiration, openness, and new beginnings.  And safety too.  Because I think that no matter how exciting this time is, how thrilling it is to feel the streets go from strange to mine, it’s also absolutely terrifying.  Food will always remind me that if I can feel the goodness of a single moment, the bigger piece will also be ok.

It’s good to be back.

Eating Blind

by lyzpfister

I have developed an irrational fear of flying.  It’s impractical.  Its source is unknown.  But there it is.  I have become the person that grips the edges of the seat and dons a horrified expression at a hint of turbulence.  I am the one frantically slinging back seltzer and wishing I knew a good Hail Mary.

I’m in a plane now, and I’m thinking back to the other times in life where I have been as paralyzed.  Once, on the Appalachian Trail, caught in a raging lighting storm coming off the Blackstack Cliffs, shaking in lightning position, crouched low on one foot and singing the chorus to Amazing Grace over and over again, feeling hailstones hit my back.  Once, flying through terrible winds, the plane plummeting and soaring like a whipped rag, with three failed landings.  And once, eating at unsicht-Bar, the blind restaurant in Berlin.

What all of these experiences have in common is the sort of fear that grips the bottom of your stomach and wriggles up through your chest, shortens your breath, makes you know a panic attack is just around the corner.  And there is helplessness.  You are not in control.

unsicht-Bar is fashioned around the concept of blindness.  Diners eat a four course meal in complete blackness, and the restaurant is staffed entirely by the blind.  In the marble lobby, on plush lounge chairs surrounded by candlelight, you are given a menu whose dishes include such enigmatic delicacies as “The Frisian nobility is on fire and looking for acquaintanceship with the French underworld to practice love things.”  It’s charming.  We thought eating blind would be fun.

After making our dinner choices, we were introduced to our waiter, Harald.  Harald instructed us to grab on to the shoulders of the person standing in front of us.  I watched my mother grab on to Harald and Elisabeth grab on to my mother.  I took Elisabeth’s shoulders and felt the train whisk forward into the thick velvet drapes like some Wonderland bound vessel.  We wound around and when we stopped, we were in total darkness.  You could stand in a dark room and close your eyes and it wouldn’t be as dark as this room.  I waved a free hand in front of my face.  Not even the impression of a hand sweeping past, fracturing light.  We found ourselves whispering.

Harald seated us one by one, instructing us not to move unless sanctioned to do so, and then he had us feel our plates, our forks, knives, soup spoons, napkins.  He brought us wine.  We felt our glasses.  He brought us bread and we touched that too.  And then we sat in that giant, dark room.  I was massive and miniscule at the same time.  Totally alone without my sight.  I couldn’t see my hands.  I couldn’t remember if they were there.  I moved my fingers.  I blinked and nothing changed.  It felt futile, attempting to penetrate a black blankness.  I reached for my mother sitting next to me and grabbed her hand and then we both grabbed for Elisabeth across the table.  I breathed slowly, connected to two other people in the darkness, proof I wasn’t alone.  Unobtrusively, the darkness opened up and I became aware of the tinkling of glasses, a woman’s laughter, the feeling of being in a vast space.

We talked to hear the sounds of each other’s voices, to locate ourselves.  We loosened our shoulders, though our laughter was still tinged with nervousness.  The food was delicious.  Delicate.  It had to be good – we couldn’t rely on our eyes to fool us into instilling taste into an artful cylinder of yams.  And we had no idea what we’d ordered beyond fish, fowl, or vegetable.  But my risotto was rich, the flounder fresh, and I ate bite after bite to figure out what that delicious vegetable was – sweet, slightly firm, a tuber?  What was it, what was it… We exclaimed over our food.  Oh!  Look what I found!  I thought I was done!  Try this – where’s your hand?

There was the moment when I reached into the bread basket for a second roll only to find it empty.  I had two, said my mother.  I had two, said Elisabeth.  When you’re blind, no one leaves the last bread roll.  You eat as much as you want and no one knows.  I brought the empty fork to my mouth countless times, sometimes even upside down.  Mom was eating with her hands.  At one point, one of us (who shall remain unnamed) flashed the entire restaurant.  Not even the others at the table had any idea.

We moved through appetizer and salad, main course and dessert, by this time at uneasy peace with the dark.  Once, I put my hands over my ears to see what it would have been like to be Helen Keller and I almost screamed just to control something.  The thing about that darkness is, there is no relief.  Deep breaths.  The taste of fresh fruit.  Finding a closed jar on the plate.  Figuring out how to open it.  Reaching inside and touching firm pudding.  Making everyone open the jar to touch the pudding.

Harald came to take our plates and offered to take us back into the light.  We thought for a moment, silently communing.  No, we’ll stay a little longer.  There’s a word in German, seltsam, which describes the moment.  Sitting in the dark was uncomfortable, but when would we ever know it again?

Even the night afterwards was garish.  Stucco gritted out in plain relief, brilliant colors, textured wooden window-sills, and space.  So much space around us.  I wanted to look everywhere at the same time.  I wanted to stretch my arms out and know nothing was in my way.  I was in control again.  I barely remembered the fear, outside in the open air where I could see.  I tried to recreate it – I closed my eyes, but everywhere was still the impression of light.

Fear is a funny thing.  Our mind remembers, I was afraid, but like pain, our body cannot spontaneously recreate the stomach’s clutch or the chest’s arching tightness.

Today in my plane, the ride is relatively smooth, but just a few seconds of drop and rise, and how quickly fear blooms.  I wish it weren’t so restrictive – that instead of paralysis, we can link in to the fear and find the seltsam, the unique experience of near death, and the joy of finding ourselves alive and unscathed afterwards.  To taste the food with our eyes closed, so to speak.  Because we can never feel truly safe unless we are scared every now and then.