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Cherry-picking at the Haus am Waldsee (Berlin Biennale)

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The cherry trees in front of the Haus am Waldsee are full of fruit. Before we visited the Berlin Biennale, we loitered in the villa's garden and ate our fill.

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The back garden had the air of a children's party, of a lazy Sunday picnic. Scattered tables on the lawn held apricot cake and espresso cups.

Parents stooped to read the plaque explaining the Slavs and Tatars sound piece (a jagged, synthesized muezzin's call to prayer) while the speakers, laid out on the grass like an open book, beckoned children to romp. By the lake, a father explained the motion-triggered water sculpture while the boy stared spellbound at the sky reflected in the still water.

The lake itself, I learned later, was an artificial one, constructed from a meadow. To stand at its edge and spot the rear sides of the adjacent villas felt utterly natural, though really, we were all interlopers: we had art to thank for allowing us to sample such rare air. As before at the Haus am Waldsee, art for a moment seemed pale placed alongside life — but I did come around to the art.

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'Quintor des nègres' played as we drank our tea on the veranda, part of the Argentine artist Carla Zaccagnini's installation, Le Quintor des Nègres, encore. A fountain fashioned of Cypriot copper plashed in a back room. A horror-film score punctuated the still dramas of forests and housing project in Patrick Alan Banfield's twin-screened vyLö:t. The pleasing cacophony continued upstairs with the video and soundtrack of a woman DJing classical music LPs in Anri Sala's Unravel.

If I thought the magnetism of the grounds represented a personal failure to be serious, I was pleased to read curator Juan Gaitan remark himself on this tension: "It is an intimate space, and more demanding in terms of one’s focus on contemporary artworks. The artists are competing with the house, the surrounding lake, and so forth."

Before we left, we filled our pockets with cherries, and when we went home, we made Rumtopf.

Strawberry picking in and around Berlin

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Tis the season! Two favorites: Vierfelderhof (blogged here a couple of years ago) in Spandau, with its organic strawberries, charming outdoor cafe and small menagerie of animals. And Hofladen Falkensee, which is mounting a strawberry festival this weekend. Alongside mounds of strawberries, the farm promises pony rides, face-painting and local fresh game.

Vierfelderhof, Straße 264 Nr. 33, Berlin-Spandau/Gatow (map) [Note the bus is not running at the moment]

Hofladen Falkensee, Dallgower Str.1, Dallgow-Döberitz (map)

Lunching between books: Literaturcafé der Autorenbuchhandlung Berlin

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The waiter is solemn and handsome. The menu is a repurposed Insel Verlag hardback. The library hush is appropriate for a bookshop café. An elderly Charlottenburger flicks languidly through an art catalogue, her wooden necklace as eye-catching as a parrot. Across the room, two spectacled parents play Uno with their grade-school son.

Elegantly vaulted beneath the arch of the railway viaduct, the space is echoing yet intimate. I tuned it out a number of times, until finally I stepped in.

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The menu is brief and unfussy: a trio of Austrian bread dumplings done three ways; Weck jars filled with Greek yogurt, toasted hazelnuts and honey, or with Quark and fresh fruit; a flaky chorizo and red pepper quiche matched with a small, perfect salad. At teatime, there is also a wicked selection of cakes, matched by coffee from Berlin roaster pioneer Andraschko. Early risers: The café opens at 9am every day; its breakfast options include perfect eggs and present a pleasant alternative to bewildering, expensive brunch buffets.

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Napping-dog

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Later, you will inevitably be drawn into the adjacent bookshop, where you will admire the spaniel napping on an armchair and leaf through the latest Alice Munro. The Autorenbuchhandlung Berlin has a venerable history, founded in the late 1970s by authors including Heinrich Böll, Elfriede Jelinek and Günter Grass as a protest against an increasingly homogeneous book-selling environment. Then as now, the bookshop (and its mates in Frankfurt and Munich) preserves a literary culture that prizes breadth and depth.

But for now, the only thing to do is savor your lunch and enjoy the serenity of the summer light.

Literaturcafé der Autorenbuchhandlung
Else-Ury-Bogen 601, Berlin-Charlottenburg (beneath S-Bahn Savignyplatz) (map)

Verabredung zum Essen (An evening at Mulax with Slow Food Berlin)

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We spoke of hydroponic gardens and of Barnim water buffaloes, of tasting sets and of a Hohen Neuendorf villa that houses a Viennese coffee house, while the brother-and-sister duo behind Mulax plied us with sour pickle sorbet and house-made crackers topped with golden pike caviar from the Müritzfischer.

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As the name might suggest, Verabredung zum Essen is a casual, lively, mostly German monthly meet-up organized by Slow Food Berlin. Open to members and non-members alike, the group is united by a passion for local foods grown and prepared with care. Our meal that night included tiny dense-fleshed carrots from the Mulacks' own garden in Mariendorf, Uckermark beef cooked sous vide for three days, and slow-boiled eggs on tender spears of pale asparagus from Beelitz.

Later this month, we'll convene again at the much-ballyhooed brasserie Lamazère at Stuttgarter Platz in Charlottenburg and oh, how I'm looking forward to another sparkling evening! Find all the details on menu and registration here.

Easter snaps

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 This Easter, happily, we were tourists in Berlin. Dinners at Aroma, Meierei, and Lentz, lunches were long picnics on the lawn. The peacocks sport full plumage on Peacock Island. The sand dunes in Grunewald rang with the sounds of a spontaneous accordian concert. The cherry blossom have turned into confetti.  

   

Miang Kam at Thai Park

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“The leaf lady is here!” she cried, and dashed off. 

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When she returned, we crowded around the black plastic platter. It was heaped high with diced limes, ginger, red onions, and chilis, roasted peanuts, dried shrimps, slivered almonds, a tub of sweet and salty sauce, and, of course, the wild pepper leaves. 

Deftly she wrapped neat bite-sized parcels and dispensed them into our waiting hands. Popped into our mouths, the tiny salt shrimp unfolded into the acidity of the lime peel; we tamed the fiery chilis with swallows of cold, sweet milk tea. For dessert, I bought sticky rice, roasted coconut, and overripe mango wrapped in banana leaves. 

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What a joy that it's Thai Park season again!

Thai Park, Preussenpark, Berlin-Wilmersdorf (map). A much-loved informal collection of mostly Thai vendors selling food, ices, beverages, offering massages, and so much more.

Flowers in Berlin: An afternoon with Ruby Barber

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How long have we Berliners watched the world of floristry thrive overseas and pined for the same? I was delighted when gifted Australian florist Ruby Barber invited me to a grand Charlottenburg flat to chat as she set up the flowers for that evening’s Krauted Haus supper club (aptly titled Zwischenzeit).

Against a backdrop of creamy magnolia branches and cherry blossoms, Ruby told me she left her university course in architecture and design because she was so bewitched by the world of flowers.

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