Sunday, 29 September 2013

Cauliflower Mushroom

I spotted a lovely example of the cauliflower mushroom today, whilst exploring an abandoned Soviet garrison town hidden in the woods of Vogelsang.

The cauliflower mushroom, or sparassis crispa to give it its Sunday name, is called Krause Glucke (crinkly hen) or Fette Henne (fat hen) in German and is common to the conifer woods of East Germany.

It is edible, but a bit gristly and chewy. It is best dried and crumbled into sauces and gravies where it gives a morel-like flavour.

Remember to give it a good wash first. Like curly kale or a head of crinkly lettuce, all sorts of dirt and insects get in there!

Friday, 27 September 2013

Now That's What I Call A REAL Toadstool!

Photographed in the woods near Basdorf today whilst out mushroom hunting:

A real toad stool!
After the photoshoot, the toad toddles off home:

Damn, forgot to get a model release form!

(as always - click for bigger, and all photos on this blog copyright ME!)

Friday, 20 September 2013

Branitzer Park, Cottbus

Last week we went on an enjoyable 30km (or so) cycle ride that started at Cottbus Hauptbahnhof, went to Schloss Branitz and through Branitzer Park with its curious pyramids, caught up with the canal (Branitz-Dissencher Hauptgraben) running North-East through serene countryside, which we followed up to the not so serene - in fact downright terrifying - Cottbus-Nord brown coal strip-mining site. Then we cycled through the dotting of lakes (Teichland) to Peitz and the Jänschwalde power station. There we caught a train back to Cottbus from Peitz Ost Bahnhof, and thence back to Berlin.

It's been four (four!) years since we last visited Cottbus which is a shame, because I like Cottbus.We seem to travel through it a lot by train, on our way to other places. Mind you, the station doesn't have any lifts to the platforms, so it is a pain when you have a bike to lug up and down the stairs.

Schloss Branitz was the principle home of Fürst (Prince) Hermann von Pückler-Muskau, who also built the Schloss and park at Bad Muskau that we cycled to a few weeks ago. As at Bad Muskau, he landscaped an English-style park around his residence, Branitzer Parklandschaft.

Schloss Branitz
Where you are distracted from the symmetry of the architecture by the statue of a naked woman mooning at you.
Lake at the rear of Schloss Branitz
The naturalistically coloured statue on the left with the blue robe is of a naked woman caught as if just got out of the lake after bathing.
I am beginning to see a theme here!
Gilded bust in a rose arbor of famous opera singer Henrietta Sontag, with whom he was infatuated
Fürst Pückler wrote in a letter to his wife Lucie in 1847 about Branitz Park 'Was daraus wird nach unserem Tode, ist ja vollkommenste Nebensache. Nichts ist ewig, aber ewig schaffen ist göttlich.' (What becomes  [of the park] after our deaths is certainly an absolutely minor matter. Nothing is eternal, but eternally creating is godly). Fürts Pückler certainly did a lot of creative work with the park, but none is more surprising than the two earthen pyramids he erected, on on the land and one in a lake.

The lake pyramid is where Fürst Pückler is buried together with his Lucie.

The Branitz Park is a lovely place to spend a day-trip from Berlin. It is of course a copy of a landscape style that is itself an artificial construct. As such, it does feel a bit too idealised for me, especially when it doesn't have the flocks of sheep and herds of deer that a 'genuine' English landscaped garden usually has. It was infinitely preferable though to the artificial landscape that we visited later in the day on our bike trip, the terrifying (albeit spectacular) moonscape around Jänschwalde power station.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Chicken of the Woods

We saw a beautiful specimen of Laetiporus sulphureus ('chicken of the woods' in German 'schwefelgelber porling') today, in the Branitz Park, Cottbus.

As the Germans say 'Alle Pilze Sind Eßbar, Manche Nur Einmal!' - all mushrooms are edible, some only once! But the chicken of the woods is edible when young, and in fact considered a delicacy in Germany.

This baby is too good for KFC! We left it alone too, for others to enjoy its startling sulphur-yellow colour.

Jänschwalde - Cloud Making Factory

I always wondered how fluffy white clouds were made. There's a factory north of Cottbus that produces them for Brandenburg!

Nah, actually it is the Jänschwalde coal-fired power station. Not such a beautiful thing after all.

Now, this is the scene a few kilometres south of the power station where the lignite (brown coal) for it is mined by gigantic (and I mean GIGANTIC) diggers. We went to see one of those diggers elsewhere last year. These though are continuing production until 2018; then the whole moon-scape will be flooded to create a new lake just like the one above.

Aussichtspunkt Tagebau Cottbus-Nord
Here is another view showing a bit more of the devastated landscape. The scene from the Aussichtspunkt ('viewpoint') is so unexpected, and stretches far left and right and to the horizon, that it is terrifying. Good to see the large wind-farm in the distance though - there lies the future!

Brown coal strip-mining devastation
Link to GoogleMaps

The issue of brown coal (lignite) mining is a dirty issue in Germany, a country that otherwise has a good record for its renewable energy program and its decision to phase out nuclear energy.

Greenpeace activists have just this week been protesting at the site of proposed brown coal mining expansion near the village of Proschim, which lies not many kilometers South of where these photos were taken. Find out more about open-cast strip mining of lignite and the proposed mining at Proschim here.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Room 101 - Stasi Style

Here is a real 'Room 101'. Or rather, Cell 101 at the Stasi (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit MfS) -run Hohenschönhausen Remand Prison in Lichtenberg, East Berlin.

This was a prison where suspected dissidents to the Soviet regime of the DDR were 'disappeared' to and ruthlessly interrogated until a confession (real or invented) was obtained from them.

Not somewhere you would want to find yourselves in the times of East Germany, though nowadays you can visit this memorial site of Berlin's recent past.

The prison is featured in the extraordinary film The Lives of Others and in the book Stasiland by Anna Funder.

For a full account of our visit here see this blog post Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen - Stasiland.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Bode Museum

The gigantic equestrian statue of Great Elector Friedrich in the splendid entrance hall of the Bode Museum
The Bode Museum is probably the least visited of the five museums clustered on the Museuminsel in Berlin Mitte; I have been there when the staff outnumbered the visitors, yet there was a queue around the block for the Pergamonmuseum. Which is a shame, because not only is its extensive sculpture collection worth a couple of hours of anyone's time, but also its architecture (internal and external) is the best on the island. Sorry David Chipperfield: I love what you have done to the Neues, but the Bode's neo-Baroque style is (I think) more authentic to its setting. That said, the Bode Museum is a maze to get around and you might need a GPS to get back out again.

The main body of the Bode Museum collection is its large number of statues and sculptures, but you might want to start with its Byzantine collection on the left-hand side of the ground floor. After all, they seem to have transported the whole of a richly mosaicked apse from the basilica of San Michele in Africisco in Ravenna and painstakingly reconstructed it here, so it would be a shame to miss it.

There are lots of other fascinating examples of Byzantine art here, particularly Arabic-influenced stone-carving.

There is also wonderfully carved ivory too. In fact, there are so many examples of the ivory-carvers craft in the Bode that it is a shame that to have ivory you also need a dead elephant.

Tsk. Someone has hung an ivory horn on a crucified man. No respect.
My favourite piece in the Byzantine collection is actually an early one-armed bandit. Pub gamblers would put small balls through the holes in the sides of this artefact where they would clatter randomly down the ramps and through other holes. The winner was the first ball to appear in a slot in the back. This slab of marble is richly decorated with a chariot race, so it is a bit like a themed pin-ball game, except there are no flippers and you'd fracture your hip if you tried to nudge it.

Once you have cleansed your palate with the Byzantines, it is time to prepare yourself for the main course, which is a sumptuous feast of statues and sculptures spanning Europe and the centuries up until the 19th. A word of warning though; if you are at all anti-religious then you might get indigestion from a surfeit of people nailed to crosses and voluptuous Madonnas nursing chubby babies.

Here are just a few so that you get an idea of the range of styles and materials (though mostly wood):

Popes also get a look-in, in this case Pope Alexander IV

One thing that began to puzzle me: why are there so many blonde-haired, fair-skinned Mary Mother of Gods here? Then I looked at the characteristics of the German women around me visiting the museum. Ah, that's why!

Mathew, Mark, Luke and Ringo
Not that even religious iconography can't bring a smile to your face, even if your face is in your hands:

There are quite a few beheadings in this collection, my favorite being this deliciously gruesome rendition of Salome and John the Baptist (just look at the expression on her face, and what the dog on the left is doing). I like that the curator has placed a statue of John the Baptist's head on a platter in close proximity.

If you tire of the Christian statuary though, there are plenty of Classically-themed subjects:

Also pagan themes, like this marvelous Goddess Diana (and I love the Green Man face at the bottom):

Statue of the Goddess Diana as a huntress, made out of marble by Bernardino Cametti in Rome around 1720
Pedestal by Pascal Latour around 1754 
Alternatively, you can take time out to admire the architecture, such as this splendid staircase and cupola at the rear of the museum building.

Some of the sculptures are genuinely moving, such as this screaming woman.

Whilst others are surprising, like this anatomical 'muscle man':

The Bode Museum is educational too, explaining for instance the methods by which a bronze statue is made from a wax original.

There is a large coin collection on the second floor, but only numismatic fanatics are likely to get too excited there. A better section to visit is hidden in the basement, an exhibition of religious treasures. It was only on my third visit that I found this exhibition: it seems to deliberately be concealed downstairs behind closed doors. Make sure you don't miss it!

Hands up if you managed to find the 'Treasures of Faith' exhibition!
In conclusion, the Bode might be the least-visited of the cultural treasures on Museum Island (Treasure Island?), but this could be for your advantage, because you can spend more time examining its collections without hoards of semi-interested tourists jostling for a gawp. Your visit might also give the museum staff an existential feeling that they actually need to be there.

One last look at some of the religious art-work plundered purchased from churches across Germany

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

One Million Dollars

I am not one to get excited by numismatics, but the giant one million Canadian dollars solid gold coin at the Bode Museum is sure impressive!

If there are any Canadians want to contact me for the heist and work out a way to smuggle it to Canada to spend it, please don't bother. It weighs 100kg for a start, which is well over my Ryan Air baggage allowance!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Spice it up! Finding the Essentials of Indian Cuisine in Berlin

A photo of one of my hauls after a visit to TS Food Traders (see below)
I love curries, but somehow I have not managed to find an Indian restaurant in Berlin that quite hits the spot. Many good ones, but none with the authentic Anglo-Indian style that you get from a hundred years of the Rajh, or from the Punjabi/Bangladeshi immigrants to Britain who set up restaurants there in the 60's and 70's and thereby set the national taste for curries.

Berlin Indian curries are either too bland and tailored to the German palate, or totally authentic but more of a southern Tamil Nadu or Kerala style, whereas us Brits are used to northern Indian cuisine.

There's only one thing to do, and that's make your own!

Making your own isn't too difficult if you have a palate tuned to your expectations and the basic skills to match. But you also need the spices to build the depth of flavours, and that might seem difficult if you are depending on your local Rewe/Lidl/Netto/Kaisers etc. Just getting fresh coriander leaf is almost impossible from a German Supermarkt, and if you do you have to pay an arm and a leg. Similarly the small sachets of spices they sell are over-priced, and not often very fresh.

Your first point-of-call are the numerous Asia Markt stores around Berlin. Here you can usually get the most common spices, at a decent price. Some even have the Patak's range of curry pastes and pickles. One of my favorites (because it is convenient and has a good range - not because I am on commission) is on Kopenhagener Straße, just off of Schönhauser Allee (Netto on the corner). They often have good quality panir cheese and fresh curry leaves in the chill cabinet, as well as a good range of spices.

There are also a couple of wholesalers that sell direct to the Indian restaurants, but also have attached shops for the public. One of the largest is Punjab Food Traders on Tromsöer Straße, near Osloer Straße U-Bahn. A smaller (though friendlier) one is TS Food Traders on Stromstraße near Turmstraße U-Bahn: though it takes a bit of finding, they are often good for fresh okra, as well as cans of Idris ginger beer and reasonably-priced digestive biscuits. A word of warning though, don't expect Kaiser-style displays and lighting - it is all a bit basic.

Finally, don't overlook the Turkish supermarkets. They always have bunches of cheap, fresh coriander and flat-leafed parsley, as well as other essential fresh ingredients like chilli-peppers and spinach that don't make it into regular German supermarkets. Plus they have a good selection of dried and powdered spices, though they are often labelled in Turkish. One of my favorites is Eurogida, again on Turmstraße but with 12x outlets in Berlin; the most convenient store to me is on Badstraße near S- and U-Bahn Gesundbrunnen. Always busy, always lots of other (non-Indian) culinary distractions (many diverse sorts of olives, halva, haloumi, and stuffed vine-leaves). And if you want further fresh produce, there are no end of Turkish shops and stalls to be found in Neuköln and Kreuzberg. In particular, check out the wonderfully colourful and aromatic (but also bustling) Turkish market on Maybachufer near Kottbusser Tor and Schönleinstr. U-Bahns, Tuesdays and Fridays.

So that you can identify some basic Indian culinary spices and staples that might be packaged in different languages, here is a cut-out-and-keep guide to their English/German/Hindi/Turkish names:

English German Hindi Turkish
almond Mandel badaam badem
aniseed Anis suwa or shopa anason tohumu
asafetida Asafoetida hing şeytantersi
aubergine Aubergine baingan patlıcan
bay leaf Lorbeerblatt tej patta defne yaprağı
black pepper schwarzer Pfeffer kala mirch karabiber
black mustard seeds schwarze Senfkörner rai siyah hardal tohumu
broccoli Brokkoli hari gobhi brokoli
cardamom Kardamom elaichi kakule
cauliflower Blumenkohl gobhi karnabahar
chickpea Kichererbsen besan or chana dal nohut
chili pepper Chilischote lal mirch (red) hari mirch (green) kırmızı biber or dövme biber
cinnamon Zimt dalchini tarçın
cloves Gewürznelken laung karanfil
coriander or cilantro Koriander dhania kişniş
cumin Kreuzkümmel jeera kimyon
curry leaves Curryblätter karhi patta or neem köri yaprakları
fennel seeds Fenchelsamen saunf rezene tohumu
fenugreek seeds Bockshornklee methi çemen otu
garlic Knoblauch Lahsun sarımsak
ginger Ingwer adrak (fresh) or sonth (powder) zendefil
lemon Zitrone nimbu limon
mint Minze podina nane
nigella seeds Nigellasamen kalonji çörek otu
nutmeg Muskatnuss jaiphal muskat or küçük hindistan cevizi
okra Okra bhindi bamya
peas Erbsen hari matar bezelye
pomegranate seeds Granatapfelkernen anardana nar taneleri
poppy seeds Mohn khus khus haşhaş tohumu
potato Kartoffel aloo patates
rice Reis chaval pirinç
saffron Safran kesar safran
sesame seeds Sesam til susam
spinach Spinat palak or sag or sak ıspanak
sweet or bell pepper (capsicum) Paprika shimla mirch or peeli mirchi (yellow pepper) paprika or pulbiber
sweet potato Süßkartoffel shakarkand tatlı patates
tamarind Tamarinde imli demirhindi
tomatoes Tomaten tamatar domates
turmeric Kurkuma haldi zerdeçal

I hope that has inspired you to seek out new tastes. Guten appetit!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Drainspotting in the DDR

Abdeckungen are 'manhole covers' and are functional street objects that allow a workman (or workwoman) access to underground utilities such as sewerage or electricity cables. They are so common that no-one gives them a second, or even first, glance.

But, they might tell you more than you think, as I found out when I took a photo of this Abdeckung in Meissen.

photo of a manhole cover in Meissen by Andie Gilmour

'Yes, yes, fascinating Andie', you might say, before checking the time and hurrying off. But please bear with me.

Let's just get a closer view:

photo of a manhole cover in Meissen by Andie Gilmour

The manhole cover says 'Made in GDR' on it, so for a start you have a date: this cast iron cover was made when Meißen was part of the GDR (German Democratic Republic), so any time between 1949 and 1990.

Note also that it says 'Made in GDR', not 'hergstellt in der DDR'. Why in English? Well, that goes back to the Merchandise Marks Act passed by the UK Parliament in 1887. This Act stipulated that foreign-made goods should be clearly marked with their country of manufacture in a move to get consumers to patriotically buy British.

This back-fired somewhat, as German goods were considered of better quality and were in high demand. Consequently, German manufacturers proudly stamped 'Made in Germany' on all their products, whether bound for the British market or not.

This practice went on to the present day; if you examine anything in the local Baumarkt, for example, you are sure to see Bosch chainsaws etc. marked 'Made in Germany'. Rammstein even called their greatest hits album by the same appellation. Rammstein also, apparently - though I very much doubt it, 'can't get laid in Germany' (great pun, fun video!)

But why 'Made in GDR' then? That dates back to 1973 and a ruling by the Bundesgerichtshof (the highest court of law in Germany) that the mark 'Made in Germany' didn't distinguish between the two Germanies of the time.

What is surprising though is that anybody thought that Britain, or anywhere outside the Soviet sphere of influence, would want to source their manhole covers from East Germany. But, you never know.

You might also just make out that the manhole cover has stamped on it TGL22741/03. TGL stands for - wait for it - Technische Normen, Gütevorschriften und Lieferbedingungen (Technical Standards, Quality Specifications, and Delivery), which were regulations for the standardisation of manufactured goods to specified dimensions and level of quality of production. A bit like DIN standards are in modern Germany, or ISO worldwide. In particular, TGL22741/03 was the standard for cast-iron mahole covers. So there you go, something else to impress your friends with whilst walking down the streets of Berlin and you see it on a manhole cover.

You can spot DDR drain covers all over East Germany. Here's one from Halle in Saxony-Anhalt for example:

If you get bored with looking out for DDR manhole covers, then their modern-day equivalents can be just as interesting, if not more so. At least you can be reassured what town you are in. Here's a modern manhole cover from Meißen:

photo of a manhole cover in Meissen by Andie Gilmour

And here's one from Waren

And one from Brandenburg an der Havel:

One from Spremberg, in the Lausitz region of Brandenburg:

And one from Erfurt:

This is from Celle, Lower Saxony Niedersachsen

One from Neuruppin in good old Brandenburg:

Another drain cover from Halle, Saxony-Anhalt:

Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt:

Wernigerode in the Hartz Mountains, Saxony-Anhalt:

Another from Saxony-Anhalt, this time from Halberstadt, with its rather interesting Wolfangel heraldic design (a two-barbed metal bar suspended in trees and baited with flesh to 'angel' for wolves):

Oooh! And here's one from Dresden in Saxony (Sachsen):

And an autumnal drain cover from Bautzen, also in Saxony:

I suppose that I should include one from Berlin too. You can tell it's from Berlin because unlike all the other pristine ones, this manhole cover is surrounded by discarded cigarette butts.

I think I'm starting to get a bit too obsessive now, so I will stop.