Berlin: Teil eins

Berlin is teaming with street-front patios, confusing traffic signs, gratuitous graffiti and swiftly moving bike paths. Of course, I knew virtually none of this before landing in Germany’s vibrant capital and experiencing it myself.

It’s sort of funny to think about the series of events that led Heath and I to Europe. The whole trip was practically born from a drunken happy hour (as if there is any other kind) with my female soul mate Melissa. She and hubby Nick were about to depart for a 5-month bike tour through the European country side before relocating permanently to Seattle. Rather than lament her loss, Melissa and I instead tipsily planned a reunion for the four of us in Germany. I promptly returned home and recounted our plan back to Heath. Not for approval, mind you– we don’t have that kind of relationship–but for the sake of healthy discussion. For what it’s worth, Heath’s and my original plan for summer travel was to do a relatively cheap backpacking excursion in the Rockies so that we could save the big bucks for some much needed electrical upgrades. Sexy, I know, but as many homeowners know, when you’re on a budget it’s touch sometimes to relinquish your liquid assets on a plane ticket over something with some actual ROI. After crunching the numbers and recounting our promise to ourselves that we wouldn’t start our human family until we’d traveled together to 3 continents, we both decided now was as good a time as any to cross the pond and butcher a few languages. A few clicks through priceline.com later, an itinerary to and from Berlin was sitting in my inbox. A few Rick Steves episodes after that, a course was charted and we had a regular old European road trip on our hands.

We got to Berlin on a Friday morning a little after 7 o clock. Despite a raging case of jet lag, we walked from our Hauptbonhof adjacent hotel to Brandenburg Gate so Heath could take his requisite history teacher selfie, and so we could begin our stroll down Unter den Linden. Apparently, the popular promenade was once shaded by centuries old Linden trees, which Hitler had removed during his burgeoning political career and replaced with German flags. The uproar from Berliners was so great that the flags were removed and the trees replanted. Interesting priorities there, pre World War II Germany. Normally, the boulevard is teaming with tourists and ritzy cafe patrons, but we were there before most shops had opened and had nearly the entire boulevard to explore by ourselves.

We walked passed Hotel Adlon (of Michalel Jackson baby-dangling fame), Humboldt University (where academic legends like Albert Einstein have taught), a statue of Frederick the Great (rumored lover or famed French philosopher Voltaire), and a handful of kitsch Ampelmännchen souvenir shops before arriving at Museum Island.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Heath in front of Brandenburg Gate

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berlin construction

A growing Berlin skyline

Humboldt University

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museumisland

 

museum island

Museum Island is a great part of town, home to five internationally renowned museums like the National Gallery, the Bode Museum and others. Despite a mean case of jet lag setting in and our traveler’s high adrenaline increasingly wearing off, we spent the 16 Euro admission to pass through the German History Museum. The museum beautifully chronicles the region’s history from roughly the middle ages to present. We circled the collection through WWII before finally succumbing to our jet lag and heading back toward the hotel, by way of one quick stop for a taste of currywurst.

napoleon

Heath gets his Napoleon on.

 

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Portrait of Lady Victory. Her statue originally sat atop Brandenburg gate and she was known as the Goddess of Peace until Napoleon conquered the city in 1806. Then the statue was taken to Paris before being returned in 1814, after Napoleon’s defeat, where her olive wreath was replaced with an iron cross and she was renamed Lady Victory by the Prussians.

currywurst

Currywurst is a traditional Berlin street food and is actually not very good at all. An acquired taste, perhaps.

berlin water pipes

Berlin is growing at an incredible rate that has made it difficult for infrastructure to keep up. These above ground water pipes cascade the city landscape. I rather liked their colorful presence, as it had an imaginative Lego-like quality.

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View of the train station from our hotel. Great for incognito people watching.

A long nap and much-needed shower later, we walked to nearby Zollpackhof Biergarten for libations and grilled meats. Beer and patio lovers we are, the Berlin beer scene is one I would very much like to reproduce in America. Austin has a few biergarten imitations (Bangers, Scholz) but none that capture the laid back atmosphere of the German gartens. You order at the counter, choose your own seat, and enjoy the environment without interruption or pressure to be hasty. It’s worth noting that unlike Texas’ outdoor atmospheres, Berlin’s biergartens are free of mosquitoes, and the temperature maxes out at comfortable 85 degrees: warm enough to enjoy a cold one, but not so hot that you’re patting your arm pits down with paper napkins.

We spent a few healthy hours here talking about relationships and conspiring about life. Around 11, we departed from our beer-drenched den of contemplation and headed to Tiergarten–Berlin’s Central Park–for a midnight stroll.

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We left Berlin in the morning, only to return a week later.

Next up: Dresden, Prague and Bone Church.

 

 


Homebrew

This winter we finally got around to brewing our own beer. A bunch of our pals have been at it for a while and we had long been intrigued by their tales of the process. I don’t want to give away the ending of our experiment here in paragraph one, but suffice it to say, we will surely be brewing again before the month’s over.

Ok, so first things first.  Most of the equipment we used came from a brew kit.  (This one, to be exact. Thanks Mom!) A brew kit is pretty great because, as kits are known to do, it provides you with all of the supplies and tools you will need to brew successfully.  The big ticket items are the glass carboy (used to hold the beer during the fermentation process) and the secondary fermenter contatiner (basically a big bucket with a nozzle for bottling). We had to make a few additional purchases in addition to the brew kit, but the add-ons were minimal: bottle caps, high pressure nozzle for cleaning out bottles, and a large pot for boiling the ingredients. We also referred to a copy of The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, which provides a lot of great information and instruction. I definitely recommend this book to first-time brewers because, in addition to directions, it provides an excellent summary of the science behind fermentation, which we both found extremely intriguing. For instance, it provided Heath with the clarity and confidence to proclaim that “alcohol is basically yeast poop” so you know it’s a good read.

joy of home brewingOnce we did a quick survey of our inventory and concluded that we did in fact have the necessary tools to become brew masters, we set off for Austin Homebrew Supply to get the ingredients for creating our first batch. Shelf after shelf was stocked with plastic containers labeled as “malt extract” and other unfamiliar head-scratchers.  It was a little intimidating at first glance, but the knowledgeable yet laid back staff set our minds at ease. Essentially the way it works you flip through a book with hundreds of recipes and let the cashier know which recipe you’ve chosen to try your hand at.  They were great about telling us which recipes were easy, which ones were more difficult and what other folks had said about their experiences with that particular brew. We walked away with the materials for a peach hefeweizen, not a traditional choice, but one we were nonetheless excited to try.

Once we were back at home we immediately got going.  For your viewing pleasure, I’ve created the following step-by-step guide for other brewing novices.

brewinstructions

Last weekend we had our first sip of our trial batch. And all I have to say is a satisfied “ahhh.” Our first sampling came before the beer was completely carbonated, but it was still a glorious moment to take that first drink and discover that we aren’t incompetent DIY brewers. Yes! This actually tastes like beer! It actually tastes like good beer! One week later, the brews are nice and carbonated.  The bottles make that exciting “ssssck” sound when you first remove the cap and the beer foams and bubbles slightly when when you pour it into the pint glass. Such joy we’ve derived from just that moment and the drinking hasn’t even started.

In summation, the process was fairly easy, though it does require attention to detail and a lot of patience.  But, like any cook or brewer, I love the science behind the process and the satisfied feeling we have when sharing it with friends.  I’m giddy thinking about what creations we might turn out next.  An IPA, a stout, a pilsner?  The sky is the limit. Doodle house? More like Brewdoole house!

peach hefeweizen


Brew Haha

This weekend Heath and I met up with pals at the 2012 Texas Craft Brewers Festival at Fiesta Gardens on Lady Bird Lake.

There were dozens of micro brew booths at the fest, which, according to our buddy and home brew aficionado Mike, was twice as many as were in attendance at last year’s gathering. Yes, the surge of micro breweries in Texas has quite literally doubled over the past year, and you won’t hear any complaints from us. And considering that micro breweries may be one of the only industries not in recession, it seemed like the only American thing to do was to get out there and grow the economy, one beer at a time.

The selection at the fest pretty well covered the spectrum of beers: dark and light, bold and mild. We got to taste 6-oz samples from some of our old favorites like Live Oak and some new ones like South Austin Brewery.  Neither of us are much in the way of beer experts, but we do know a good beer (and a bad one) when we taste it.

The satisfying and sobering Blogworthy concoctions included:

  • Flying Monk by Adelbert’s Brewery—A rich and nutty brew that’s as delicious as it is dangerous at 10% ABV.
  • Saison D’Austin by South Austin Brewery— A beer on the dark side with a little kick and spice but still goes down smooth.
  • Das Wunderkind by Jester King Craft Brewery— A sour beer, which is apparently “in” right now but looks like foggy water and tastes like vinegar. (In other words, don’t do it.)
  • Smokin’ Beech by Circle Brewing Co.— An unusual, thick beer with smokey flavors that aren’t overwhelming but definitely get the taste buds tingling. I could get down on a pint, but think I would need to switch to something less anomalous after that.

Good beers or bad ones, we enjoyed ourselves sipping on cold and distinctive brews on what was the first chilly day of fall, overlooking the lake and chatting with pals. I imagine we will be back at next year’s fest, especially when I know it makes Heath so happy.

 


Acting Irresponsibly

Mom to me: So in between all of this traveling back and forth to Denton for wedding responsibilities and working on house projects, when are you finding time to have fun and do your own thing?

Good point, Mom. It is high time I started being way more selfish and irresponsible.(What? That’s not what you meant? Well, that’s how I’m taking it.) I mean, when your own mother points out the fact that you are kind of being a lame 20-something-year-old, you really owe it to yourself to pick up the partying pace. Don’t mind if I do take a weekend off from painting and pruning to indulge in some merriment.

The first non-home-improvement related activity of the weekend: backyard party and musical extravaganza.

Our friends Tristan (musician) and Monte (intellectual) hosted a backyard shindig to celebrate the former’s birthday. Among other things, their late-night get-together featured a keg-loving kitty and live performances by Your Friendly Ghost. We’ve experienced a healthy variety of interesting party panoramas (including a cheap beer taste test and drinking among living manikins at The Gap to name only two), and this one lacked the grandeur of some of our other weekend romps in terms of food or fanfare, but was nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable evening (completely free of drying Spackle or matching paint colors). After all, it’s not every day you’re granted front-row seats to an exclusive musical performance from one of Austin’s most talented up-and-coming bands. Point, Robinsons.

For day 2 of our vacation from renovation we went to the Live Oak Brewing Company on the East side for the local microbrewery’s 15th anniversary celebration. I attended an eerily similar event last year which I blogged about here. The biggest difference between that event and this one is mostly (and by mostly, I mean totally) in the numbers (14 years vs.15 years). The party was pretty much identical to the previous celebration…from the music talent, to the weird school bus themed bounce house, to the tortilla wrapped bratwurst. But it was free beer (the best in Austin), free food and perfect weather…so not at all something at which to turn up your nose.

 

From there we wandered to campus to hear Minus the Bear play at 40 Acres Fest. The annual concert is free for all, and in the past has hosted much bigger players like Little Richard and The Roots. This year’s show was much more scaled down than others I had experienced, and probably drew about 1/4 of the crowd, though even then, I’d venture to guess there were 400 or so MTB fans in attendance… mostly (as to be expected) students. Heath and I felt like old codgers in our folding lawn chairs off to the side of most of the concert action, but still had to hand it to ourselves for making it out after several hours of day drinking.

Lucky for us, sound was still pitch perfect from our side seating…AND we got to see the most ridiculously huge Texas flag hanging from the main building and acting as a backdrop to the emo/rock music. So, no curtain hanging this weekend, but definite flag hanging for sure…in fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve met my Texas flag quota for the year.

On Sunday we finally broke. We had to stop at Home Depot to get a few knick knacks for some side projects we have planned for later in the week. After all, we’re only human and can’t be expected to stay away from our calling for long. So I guess the weekend wasn’t COMPLETELY without thought of home improvement projects.

To make amends for our infidelity, we opted to spend the later morning/early afternoon taking in Sunday brunch and cocktails at Nomad. The neighborhood bar has time and time again won awards from The Austin Chronicle for having the best bar staff and being one of the best neighborhood bars, and it’s my prediction it won’t be too long before it gets a nod for its brunch. The brunch, by Mark Rivas Catering, is $13 for all you can eat brunchy goodness that includes a waffle bar, omelet bar, fruit bar and 23480234234 other options that get me in a tizzy. Admittedly, I probably love it so much because it’s walking distance from the house and has an option for bottomless mimosas, but since moving to the new casa, it’s been tough to abstain from brunch binges at Nomad.

And just like that, our weekend was done. We tended to the chickens and watched the latest episode of Mad Men, but other than that the house was unchanged. On Monday morning, the old house looked just as she did on Friday afternoon.

I know when my mother said we should take time for ourselves, she didn’t so much mean “take time to party, and sleep in, and be lazy.” She meant take time to  travel and explore and experience new things, which is still on the docket for a weekend in the very near future; but heavens, I did enjoy my weekend of reckless disregard for my status as “homeowner” and drinking adult beverages with child carelessness.  Still, I might be a little excited about returning to my rightful role of diligent caretaker to the doodle manor in the coming days.


Falling in the Gap

Do you mean fall into the Gap?

No. I mean falling in the Gap. Falling because you’ve just finished your second bottle of Shiner Cheer and you  keep tripping over dozens of living manikins while making your way to the sushi buffet.

And no, again. I’m not talking about a trippy dream but rather the Free Drink Party hosted at our friendly neighborhood Gap last Friday. Gap celebrated…winter(?) last weekend with a free-for-all party that featured free beer and cocktails, food from Roll On Sushi, a live DJ and tons of living, breathing, walking (no talking, though) models. I was a little hesitant to attend an FDP at the Gap (the place where I bought most of my childhood back-to-school clothes), but it turns out combining seasonal styles with seasonal brew is a genius publicity stunt. Midway through beer number two, we started filling our mental shopping cart with all the scarves, mittens and sweaters we could handle. Not sure how many of us returned to Gap the next day to pick up the items we eyed the day before, but its safe to say Gap made off with a small fortune.

Job well done, Gap, for creating as fine a sweater as you do a party.


CultureMap

My mom says I gravitate toward any party where free eats and drinks are abundant, and I can’t necessarily disagree with her. But who really wants to turn down unlimited food, spicy margaritas and free petting zoos anyway? Case in point, the CultureMap launch party last Thursday.

The Eastside fiesta at Pine Street Station (home of favorite SXSW destination Fader Fort and in SXSW off season, Hope Farmer’s Market) celebrated the launch (albiet a little tardy) of the Austin portion of CultureMap, a news/lifestyle website that greets visitors with a clean and trendy interface chock-full of Austin-themed stories on topics spanning music, film, fitness, design, sports and innovation. The party, like the website, was diverse in its attractions.

Like FDPs of the past, this one included live music, a photobooth and refreshments out the wazoo, but unlike others I’ve frequented, it also featured a petting zoo by Tiny Tails to You (complete with hedgehogs, bunnies and baby ducks), and performance by Sky Candy Aerial Arts.  If animals and acrobatics become the next trend in party throwing, I should just give up right now.

Check out pics from the event here.

And while you’re at it, maybe give the entire CultureMap website a glance too.


Austin place to love: Birds Barbershop

It’s been more than a year now that I’ve been blogging via La casa de doodle, so in an effort to mix things up I am introducing a regular feature to this enchanting piece of internet.

Name of said feature: Austin place to love
Purpose: Share the primary reasons why some local gems are worth your precious moneys.
This week’s place: Birds Barbershop.

Don’t be fooled by the name, while entitled a “barbershop,” this haircuttery is for the ladies too. Basically, Kelsey + Birds = Love because:

1.) The haircuts are reasonably priced and, in my humble opinion, pretty swell. I’ve never walked out of Birds with a haircut I didn’t love. I’ll drop $39 for what they call a “lady bird” (basic shampoo/cut/style) and be perfectly happy with the results. Not too shabby considering I’ve spent $60, $70 and $80 at other ritzy places and felt less-than-optimistic about the outcome of my do.

2.) ‘Tis local. I love doing business local when at all possible. So Birds gets points for being born here. Yay.

3.) Ambiance. Birds has crazy-cool retro decor that feels distinctly similar to a Fun House, albeit a less creepy, less nauseating version. My regular locale features awesome murals of Space Invaders AND free video games while you wait. Classy.

4.) Convenience (aka they take walk-ins). I don’t usually think I need a haircut until I wake up and realize that this mop of dead skin cells on top of my head needs professional attention. By the time I make that realization, I’m usually 2-3 weeks past the point where I SHOULD have received a trim. So I love that Birds takes me in on those terrible days, no questions asked. I don’t have to wait 2, 3, 4 weeks for an appointment AND with multiple locations around town, I can bet there is probably a Birds close by.

5.) Terrific Tats. And by “tats” I, of course, mean tattoos. The most ridiculously awesome tattoos in Austin live on the arms of some of the Birds’ employees. I’m not joking. Once I saw a nearly life-sized tattoo of a beloved (yet deceased) childhood cat on one stylist’s shoulder. If the free video games didn’t get you, surely pet tattoos will.

6.) Free Shiner. Yes, I saved the best for last. Free Shiner Bock or Shiner Blonde while you wait.

There you have it, folks. Six reasons to love a place called Birds Barbershop.


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