Thursday, August 18, 2011

Introducing… The Tegel Injection

Most antipodeans are warned about “the Heathrow injection” when they arrive in the UK for a working holiday. The backpacker diet of toast, plentiful pints, and late-night visits to the chippy usually result in 5-10lb added insulation within the first few months. But you know, it’s easy enough to avoid if you remember that carbs are just one of five food groups, and chips (“crisps”) have no nutritional content whatsoever.
The problem facing a newly-arrived Berliner however, is that the diverse array of eateries on street corners tick all the boxes to justify indulging: 1) “I can’t eat this anywhere else, therefore it’s a cultural experience” 2) “There’s a huge line of German people waiting so it must be tasty” 3) “IT'S SO CHEAP!”. Add to this the drinking culture of popping a frosty no matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, and within three weeks ladies and gentlemen, you’ll be feeling the effects of the Tegel Injection. (Let’s remember this is during summer, when you’re cycling between parks, bars and clubs all day and night. God knows what it’s like during winter.)

Chicken schawarma (left) and falafel (right), €2.50, from Habibis in Kreuzberg, near Südstern U-bahn.

It’s quite timely that the Guardian online posted its 10 best budget eats for Berlin yesterday… timely because I sampled most of the spots on the list in the past week with three visiting friends, and because it provided an explanation this morning for why my summer onesie was feeling a little more snug than what it was three weeks ago.
Interesting to see there’s no döner kebab (or falafel) joint included on the Guardian’s list. Mustafa’s on Mehringdamm str. in Kreuzberg is probably the best-known döner place in Berlin, and a 30-minute wait in line is pretty standard. If you’re looking for less carbs and more chicken/vegetable filling, go for the flat bread wrap (Dürüm, 3.90) over the standard donor ‘sandwich’ (Hänchen donor mit Gemüse, €2.90) which involves a bread roll toasted flat and then cut and filled with chicken kebab meat and salad.

Mustafa’s donors go above and beyond the usual fare – chips, fetta, fresh herbs, and a sweet, smoky flavor from the chicken marinade mingling with the yoghurt and chilli sauces. Another positive is that due to the donor stall’s constant trade, you can rest assured that the meat is freshly cooked and freshly served… always a good thing when you’re talking about chicken of dubious origins.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Unexpected truths: das Handy

It's true.
Germans really *do* say “handy” for mobile phone.
Cue stifled giggles and frenzied web searching for Stephen Fry's audio clip from a few years back, in its hilarious entirety.

So long, London... Hallo Berlin!

All good things must come to an end, including Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visas. So, after two years battling lime scale, tube snot and passive aggressive public transport users in London, it was time for this foreign correspondent to move on or, more accurately, move out of the UK. Fortunately the timely offer of a freelance writing gig in Berlin has enabled me to stick around for the northern hemisphere summer and beyond, and hopefully postpone my first trip back to Australia in time for Meredith Music Festival in December. Here’s hoping Johnny Backhand can become a repository for all the weird and wonderful cultural peculiarities that Berlin has to offer.
London can be a cruel mistress, but there are tons of things I will fondly remember about life in the capital. In no particular order, here are the things I’ll most sorely miss:

Foodie culture – following the fervent community of bloggers discovering the latest cheap eats and much-hyped restaurants
Cockney stallholders – the way the fellas address all women as “darlin’”
Wing Yip – the only thing that would improve this Oriental/Asian mega supermarket is if they chopped the heads off the dead plucked chickens before stocking them in the poultry section
Music scene – whether it's seeing Mount Kimbie for a tenner on a weeknight, or The Futureheads' frontman at the next table over brunch in Dalston, London really is the centre of the universe for indie/alternative/pop music. I miss this.
Night buses – especially the N16 from Hyde Park corner to Staples Corner; it might as well be peak hour
Print media (aside from the NoTW scandal and page 3 girls) – Londoners are spoilt for choice on their daily commute. Add Stylist and Shortlist magazines to this list, too. You won’t knock the Evening Standard if you’ve ever read MX from Melbourne.
Long days of summer – feel like a sketchy badass emerging from a club when the sun is rising (but it’s actually only 4-something AM)
The Tube – specifically, its frequency, and its drivers’ constant PA updates when the train you’re riding is delayed
Worryingly OTT and accessible drinking culture – hey, no matter your location or circumstances, you can always find two cans of cider at 4am, if you so desire
Multiculturalism – at least in the inner city (read: ghetto) neighbourhoods I frequented. I say multiculturalism, I really mean £1.50 lahmacuns in Kilburn, £4 biryanis in Tooting, £5 pho in Dalston and £1 Jamaican patties in Brixton.
Royal Parks Half Marathon – when will you ever have the chance to pass by the city’s most iconic landmarks on the main roads, flanked by thousands of well wishers cheering you on? Besides the London Marathon (too much training, sorry), it's truly the most unforgettable way to see the city.
Spring time – feel like a Jane Austen character ‘taking a turn’ in Regents Park or up Primrose Hill, or along Regents Canal (not very Austean, but you get the idea). Spring in London runs rings around summer in London. Way more flowers in bloom and way less beached whales in public spaces.
British pub culture – especially the Grosvenor in Stockwell and Camden’s Lock Tavern
Brixton Village – thank GOSH it remained unscathed during last week’s riots
London Rollergirls – the fiercest and foremost roller derby club outside of North America, comprising the most inspiring and downright awesome bunch of ladies I’ve ever encountered. Here's some on-skate footage from their bout on the weekend against world champions Rocky Mountain Rollergirls at Earls Court in London:
Video courtesy of London Rollergirls' Henry the Sk8th