Thursday, 24 May 2007

Pankow, Karow, Spargel, Knut, and Pratergarten

Our aim was to do some serious leg-work and check out which areas of Berlin we could happily live in. Our first exploring tour was to Pankow, directly to the north of Prenzlauer Berg where we were staying.

The main street in Pankow, Breite Strasse, is a wide boulevard with a neo-Gothic parish church in the middle and a rather Baroque red-brick Rathaus ticking all the buttons of what a fairy-tale German town should look like. Something that pleases me about German towns is that you don't get the same ubiquitous high-street franchise stores that you can predict will make up a British high-street; Boots, WH Smiths, Woolworths, Body Shop, Superdrug, HSBC, Halifax, Clarkes, Specsaver, McDonalds, . . . anytown UK in fact. Pankow (or any German town I've been to) instead have mostly self-owned shops; local shops for local people! (Except for C&A for some reason; after abandoning our shores they seem intent on dominating the continent).

Wandering around the locality of Pankow you have no sense that the tourist honey-trap of Unter Den Linden is just a twenty minute S-Bahn ride away. You also find that contrary to what you might be told, not every German by any means speaks fluent English. More incentive then for us to learn German!

We explored some delightful parks in the area, from the formal Bürger park (which nether-the-less seems to have a herd of goats!), to the wildness of the Volkspark Schönholzer Heide. In the latter, you could imagine you were deep in Sherwood Forest if it wasn't for the regular aeroplanes flying overhead to Tegel airport (and for the distinct lack of any litter or dog waste). Eventually we came to the grandeur of a monumental Soviet Cemetery to those Russians who had fought liberating Berlin from the Nazis. It is not quite on the scale of the one at Treptow, but still enormous, impressive and moving.

We made our way back to Breite Strasse through what seemed a village of charming allotments and community gardens, each with their individualistic summer houses and arrangements of garden gnomes. This seemed like an area we (and the cats!) could definitely warm to.

Unfortunately, whilst in Pankow I got a call on my mobile from Halifax. The sale on our house has fallen through! This is bad news, but we don't let it stop us continuing our exploration of Berlin's housing market.

To the North East of Pankow (but still in the same Bezirk of Pankow) we came by S-Bahn and bus to Karow. We had seen on the internet an interesting house for sale here, but hadn't manage to arrange a visit with an estate agent (Immobilienmakler). We'd also seen another house, that had then been sold, and new-build opportunities on the edge of the area. Definitely woth checking out.

Karow is on the edge of Berlin (just short of the end of zone B on the public transport network), and abuts onto countryside. How much longer that will last with new buildings going up all the time is a matter of conjecture, but for the moment there are vistas of rolling rape-flower fields, trees, and open spaces.

We saw the house that had sold, and it was a missed opportunity. It even had a vets a few doorways along, so not so far to take the cats! The house we hadn't managed to get a look round certainly looked promising; fairly large and with an impressive Grundstücksgrösse (total property size including garden), enough to build another house on in fact. On the down-side, it was rather close to a main railway line, and it did seem a bit remote down a rough road.

Travelling by bus into the heart of Karow, there was a lot of evidence of DDR social housing blocks of apartments being renovated. It did seem a bit remote from Berlin, but there looked like lots of opportunity for new build housing.

Back to the centre of Berlin for lunch, which for me was a large dish of spargel (asparagus) near the Zoo Bahnhoff. Unfortunately I had assumed that spargel in a bechamel sauce would be vegetarian, but for some reason it also had strips of parma ham which I delicately excised from the dish before eating. This is the spargel season here in germany, but it is always the forced, white asparagus. I can't see what the attraction is; British green asparagus seems to have a lot more taste to me, and white asparagus has the consistency of stringy over-boiled leeks. Still, when in Rome . . . oh hang on, that's where we were supposed to be this week, but sitting amidst the buzz of Berlin I cannot complain.

Any visitor to Berlin could not be unaware that a cute polar bear called Knut has been born to Berlin Zoo. There are even postcards of giant Knut's curling around the Brandenburg Gate! So, we had to visit the Zoo and see the little chappy. Unfortunately, we missed the end of his twice-daily audience with the visitors by a matter of minutes. No worries; Berlin zoo is one of the largest and best in Europe, and I did manage to photo Knut's family instead:

No visit to Germany is complete without visiting a Biergarten, and the Pratergarten in Prenzlauer Berg is the first (begun in 1837) and possibly the best. I believe it is also where Rammstein Herman Munster look-alike (boy, am I going to get my ass whipped for this!) Till Lindemann had his fortieth birthday party, so pretty damn famous then.

So that's where we ended up this evening, particularly enjoying the Prater Schwarzbier.

Zum wohl!

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