Magdeburg’s come back

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Magdeburg was one of the first cities I visited when I moved to Berlin seven years ago and at the time, I did the usual tourist checking: the Hundertwasser complex, the central old city with the city hall and the famous golden horseman, Technical and Natural Science and History museums. This time, I was back for another one-day trip, but without any travel focus, just for some work assignment. This how I discovered a different face of the city, off the beaten path.

20150819_111324(0)After the reunification of Germany, Magdeburg was often quoted as an example of failure to bring the East at the same successful level with the West. The keywords often associated in the local media with this city were: unemployment – two digits till 2006, communist ugly Plattenbauten, neonazis and despair. Thanks to the smart subvention policy and the EU various fuding, the wisely used money was spent for infrastructure and education and from the Cinderella of the East, upgradet its status in 2012 as ‘Germany’s most dynamic city’.

20150819_112422Compared to Dresden and Leipzig, that are considered one of the most attractive destinations for both tourism and investments, where the prices for rents are slightly increasing, Magdeburg remains a good deal among the real estate investors. Especially the area near Neustädter See, close to the highway from Berlin, with many new apartments recently offered to rent. The precarious economic situation pushed many people to leave Magdeburg but in the last years, people from other part of the country and from abroad are moving here. Compared to many countries in the world, people in Germany prefer to rent instead of buying properties, with many people who never owned a real estate. Prices for rents are controlled by the state and in this particular part of Magdeburg, you easily find 2-room apartments for around 400 Euro. As for now.20150819_124204

The communist standard buildings were dramatically repainted and refurbished, and added impressive concierge services with cleaning services and other facilities included. But there are is another advantage that may bring people in this part of the city: the green area in one of the greenest cities from this part of Germany. The water sports facilities created around the lake, the new parks and restaurants as well as the advantages for families with children are also added to the list. Since 1993, the city also has its own university, the youngest in Germany, which brings in this area a lot of international students. Huge former industrial spaces were converted into business hubs for startups and engineering workshops.

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From the top of one of the highest Plattenbauten around, the buildings introduced to the real estate market as samples of the ‘1970s flair’ – I have enough communist memories to remember how flairless they used to be, boring buildings for grey people – are painted in happy colours, every block a buildings assigned a different colour. A young face to a city with history.

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The 1,200-year old city created by Charlemagne is changing his face and is getting back on its path to the future. Nothing stays the same and in a way, I am grateful that I had the chance to see this city besides the usual travel-touristic stereotypes.

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5 Places to Run Far Away from Winter

Winter is really playing hard against my meteorological patience. The German winter one, famous for its negative temperatures – -13C a couple of early  mornings ago – and persistence – once upon a time, I lived to see snow in the happy month of April no less. True is that the summer was very hot this year and the cold season started really only from January. But anyway,  for someone like me, winter is synonimous with bad mood, ugly clothing and limited freedom travel. It also means more than one book finished the day, many coffees and a lot of blogging.

This time of the year I am usually out of Germany till February, in much warmer places, from where I nonchalantly post sunny images on my social media channels. There are many warm places waiting for me and promise to visit soon – anyone said Bahamas? or Cuba? or Zanzibar? -, but as for now, I made a short list of my favourites that I already had the chance to visit in the last years.

  1. Lisbon, Portugal

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Lisbon, and Portugal in general, is one of my pleasant European travel memories. I loved to discover the people, the great food – the wine and the morning pastry are unforgettable – and so many cities that can be visited for one day trips, such as Sintra or Porto. I stayed in the fancy area of Cascais, around 25 minutes by train to the centre of the capital city and I was very happy with my choice, especially after I discovered a very special museum of musical instruments. I went there in one December and I had only one windy and rainy day in almost three weeks of stay.

2. Barcelona, Spain

It is a very touristic and crowded place, especially if you plan to celebrate the New Year’s Eve, but for a change one can try to pay a visit to the South of France for this specific day and night and come back at the beginning of January for the rest of the journey. The Gaudi architecture is interesting enough to keep you busy for long days and there are a lot of food choices for every taste and budget.

3. Israel

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Outside Europe, and only four hours of flight away from Berlin with regular cheap flights every day, Israel offers everything: history, art, religion, beaches, great food, unique shopping, high-end hotels. Bonus: the warm weather. Last December, I enjoyed a couple of days at the beach or sipped my glass of red wine with a great sea view. Once in a while, there is a little snow coming up for a couple of days or minutes, but although everyone is welcoming the event with panic and fear, there is nothing to be afraid of. And if you really miss the snow so much, there may be even some ski options in the Mount Hermon area.

4. New Orleans, USA

How much I love this place! The jazz clubs hopping on Bourbon street, the feeling of getting lost in the middle of the houses with stylish iron balconies and the summer feeling all round the year. The food is special in comparison with the most part of America, with a lot of spices and wise dosis of French influences. What everyone visiting the city should do: book a riverboat tour on the one and only Mississippi.

5. Thailand

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My first winter escape at the end of my first year in Germany was in Thailand. I arrived in Bangkok in the last days of December and the first hours I went through a thermic shock. In Berlin there were some minus degrees and in this city I was hardly able to breath because of the heat wave. Outside the busy Bangkok with its street food and night markets there are many things to see in the Northern region, from temples where one can book a bike tour to hiking, to fancy hotels with swimming pools and silk factories. The North has also cuisine based on fruits and vegetables. The prices are almost symbolical and you will hardly be alone during this time of the year, with many English speaking expats and tourists roaming around. The islands are usually high end destinations with gorgeous hotels and villas to rent, but if you are rather the secluded type, you better do an exhaustive research about where to find your peaceful paradise.

I told to myself more than once that I have one day to learn to ski, encouraged but the saying that you are never old enough to start practising this sport. My friends still hope that one day will finally buy the proper clothes for this weather and use this winter time for some unique trips instead of repeatedly complaying for months about the hard life under the Central European cold – you see, even my conversations are limited because of this weather! I also remember one beautiful winter I spent in Oslo, the first time since childhood when I enjoyed the snow and crispy weather. However, if you will ask me to chose between a sunny destination and one covered by snow, my answer will definitely favor the choice no. 1. After all, one can learn to ski at any age, isn’t it?

 

2015 in review, and some travel resolutions

 

Compared with the previous years, 2015 was a very poor one in terms of travel! No new country added on the list, few spectacular places visited and only 2 destinations outside Germany, both places that I know very well, covered: London and Israel. My blogging had ups and downs, with a long writing break between end of August and end of October.

However, many interesting things happened into my not so travelling life: I extensively went almost every week-ends in small green paradises around Berlin, discovering oasis of quietness and some great food too. I got my first full time job in Germany after many years of freelancing and unsuccessfully applying for various positions. And the most important of all my achievements sofar, baby boy D., born three months ago, my best excuse ever to slow down a bit more and rather focus on taking care of the new life. Last but not least, I added Instagram at my online brandig portfolio – #Ilanaontheroad – which I enjoy to experiment a lot with, especially during the time when waiting to be released from hospital.

But little by little, everything is back on the track and it is about time for a basic wishes’ planning. As for now, I still have some travel stories to tell from the last year and this will keep the blog busy till the new adventure is ready. I have a couple of travel and writing books that I need to read, preparing to finally start writing my own serious writing projects.  Technically speaking, my blog needs a serious relift and I will have to find the easiest and best technical way to make it look a little bit better.

Baby boy D. is also ready to travel, with his first long trip already done to Potsdam. We are ready to start discoverig the world together,  one little wonder at once. After so many years spent travelling across Europe, I know that it is about time to pay more attention to travel stories from outside my comfort zone. But as I have on my agenda the need to dramatically improve my Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, most probably I will have to include at least three classical European destinations too.

As usual, I am very cautious with making plans, but I am trying at least to make some wishes and only hope that it’s all for good!

Till the next post, keep in touch with many good travel news! And a phantastic travel year to all my readers!

Buckow, the little German Switzerland

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It is amazing the fascination of Switzerland. There are so many places and corners compared to the country of cantons that it is very hard sometimes to make the difference between the copy and the original. As someone that spent some impressive amount of time in the real Switzerland, I am very cautious with the comparisons. A bit of curiosity, a bit of boredom and my limited options of travel this summer brought me to Buckow, just another destination less than 2 hours away from Berlin, situated in the so-called Märkische Schweiz. From Müncheberg train station, we embarked on a vintage train from the 1980s ride that for 3 Euro ticket (one way, two-way costs 5 Euro) will bring us to Buckow. The train is working only from May to October.DSC01321

The ride lasts for around 10 minutes, and I can even go on the top cockpit to follow the railway road through green forest and camping places or houses with tiled rooftops. In the forest might be many protected birds, as the entire area is considered a natural park, covering around 205 sqkm.

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Those curious to discover more about the train history can visit the small museum situated in the station. DSC01328

From the one and only train station in town, we just followed the Berliner street, following only our travel intuition – as there were no arrows to direct the travelers through various destinations in the city.

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The streets are empty, but I already got used with this first impression after visiting many other places around Berlin. It seems that during the summer either everyone is hiding  behind the stone houses or they just left the area during this unusually hot season.DSC01334From the concrete of the town we are heading smoothly through the forest. The air is much fresh and the temperature get balanced so I wish I can spend here the rest of my trip this time.DSC01336Some people not only wished they spend more time here, but are just having a great time for more than a couple of hours. Some early morning campers – some of them accompanied by their small children – are just getting out of their tents and having a breakfast with a view over the lake and the historical city. DSC01338And it seems that people are doing more than camping. Some may come here to study and meditate in the middle of a collection of stones from all over the North of Europe.DSC01344The famous literary couple Bertold Brecht-Helene Weigel chose this quiet place to spend some creative summer time. Their house is open now as a memorial museum.DSC01350

But you do not have to be excessively creative to decide living or spending a lot of time in Buckow. Many of the big houses have a view and even special access to the lake. Such a lake made me feel for a while to the many enjoyable boat rides around the lakes of Zurich or Geneve. Some of the big houses do have wooden decorations and paintings in the upper part, another reminder of the picturesque Switzerland.DSC01353Our efforts to get into a boat that is supposed to start a tour around the lake in less than 40 minutes failed. Especially after the captain of one of the boats kept making very uninspired jokes in presence of ladies. The time spent waiting for the boat to leave was enough to give us a view over the Schermützelsee. Wish we are one of those lucky owners of a personal boat to just go in the middle of the lake without depending on other doubtful options…DSC01360A good food can lift the spirits and from the balcony of the restaurant of Strand Hotel we keep observing the movement from the lake while tasting some seasonal local mushrooms – Pfefferlinge – meal accompanied by boiled potatoes adorned with fresh parsley and cooked with onions. A very simple meal without excessive oil.DSC01361The soup made from the same Pfefferlinge is creamy and salty.The brown bread with various seeds is a good taste companion. DSC01362When the weather is so hot, except the boat trip in the middle of the lake, sunbathing and swimming is an option not only for the locals but also from groups of youngsters arriving by car from Berlin. DSC01369

I may be tempted to hurry up to go back to Berlin, but I feel there is something else that can be seen here. For instance, the big castle park Bukow, with its special rehabilitation clinic park. Besides Nordic walking and simple hiking – on the Kaloerienpromenade – , it is also possible to try walking bare feet through the water. I take the last challenge, but my swollen feet were not exactly ready to cope with the many little stones.

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A walk through the streets of the historical center was a more enjoyable experience. Many of the houses are available for summer renting which might be a good idea, as the area looks quiet, without too many temptations. There are some small exhibition spaces such as Közwolf bei Brecht presenting local German works, and even a Korean restaurant and a movie theater, enough things to do for offering a right balance between the secluded time for rest and a minimal social face.DSC01396

Not an artist and not on vacation, I prefer to take my regular test around the lake, looking envious from my wooden bench at the kids jumping bravely in the warm water.

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Before taking the bus till the train station, a short visit at the colourful pottery shop bring more impressions about this visit. Maybe the comparison with Switzerland does not make too much sense, but at least it makes me feel I am very very far away of the busy city life. For now, I feel less guilty for my limited travel agenda and it is enough.

For more insights from Buckow, check  the dedicated Pinterest board: https://de.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/buckow-germany/

Neverending summer feeling in Kladow

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The local bus took me from the Spandau train station in Berlin leading for 30 minutes through forests and shadows of the leaves in the Brandenburg area. Not very far away from Potsdam, but on a relatively discrete road, there is a small place call Kladow, just another summer destination of my one-day journeys from Berlin.

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In 1992, Kladow celebrated 725 years, and the old streets and houses are reminding a certain nostalgia. At the first sight there are not too many visitors around, and I enjoy taking notes of different buildings and mentions of anniversary both for the use of the local and of the foreigner.

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The historian in me cannot ignore the old age of the settlement, the over 100 of years of the Firebrigade, or the 20,000 years of the big stone brought from the Scandinavian mountains. Near the lake, an old solar watch catches my attention as I am trying to guess different time settings.

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Close to the historical area, a metal statue of the local sculptor Volkmann Haase is aimed to represent the values of friendship. Me and travel, we are friends for ever and more, of course.

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There is no sign of life behind the windows of the old tradesmen houses. Is just another one of those unusually hot days in August and the streets are, as usual, empty.

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It seems that the entire life is concentrated near the lake, in the many restaurants and small icecream parlors. The sounds of the boat engines ready to go far away are like winter cat snores. Although most part of the boats from the sea parking are privately owned, renting your own is also possible, at affordable prices, like everything around Berlin.

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I change the perspective trying to follow the sound of the rhythmic paddling. Some just chose to enjoy this day by hard work…

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All the way from Potsdam, there is a big group of party boats coming my way. Accompanied by the unmistakable bottles of fresh beers, young groups descend noisily into corners of land. Everyone is having today!

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Expansive villas in the middle of green trees and flowers are interrupting the rustic reveries. As in the case of many other places around Berlin, Kladow is also becoming an attractive real estate destination.

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On the Masha Kaleko road I turn on the left and get lost in the field. I am not alone as many children and families are taking their walks or lunches on the grass. Lying on the grass I am watching a horse being walked around.

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The old big trees are creating natural labyrinths that I wish I am bold enough to follow. Or at least less lazy.

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Slowly, slowly, I am returning to the lake area, ready for another little detour around the waters. Families on bike, with or without dogs running hard to catch up warn me to watch my steps.

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As usual in the last weeks, I make some steps, I stop for a while, took a picture, take my breath and keep walking.

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The lake is very crowded with different types of boats, big white spots on the clear blue bordered by summer green. A German riviera, simple and discrete.

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Wish I am right now on one of those lazy boats, going nowhere, doing nothing, maybe just taking a little sunbath.

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Long walks require some good meal and after wandering for more than 5 hours, I need a long tasty stop. Out of many choices, I decide – how unusual for me – for a Chinese restaurant, Regent, offering the most diverse menu although not with a view over the sea as I would have imagined the happy ending of my trip here. My sweet champignons, with summer sprouts and other typical vegetables are brought on a hot plate, accompanied by a complimentary plum wine that I should politely refuse. The meal is just fine, with too much drops of oil poured on the vegetables.

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I throw one more view over the lake, hoping that there is still time to make just one more such a simple trip around Berlin and I start the long way back to the bus station. Swallowed feet and heavy breath, I offer myself another treat, this time some berries and pamplemousse icecream at the parlour on Sakrower Kirchweg. Fruity sprinkling cold taste that keeps me energized till the next bus chair from where I say good bye to the secret Kladow paradise.

For more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board

Green summer day in Briesetal

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This summer, my travel plans and dreams were strictly limited for a good reason. Which does not mean that I was easily convince to spend quiet weekends at home. Rather the opposite: I just use the opportunity to discover interesting things to do around Berlin. And I was rewarded with a lot of worth to share discoveries. Briesetal, for instance, is just 40 minutes away from Berlin. You take the train till Fronau and from there a couple of stations more a local bus till the city hall. From there, you just need to follow some of the arrows and start walking. DSC01204

We just started the travel day by following the yellow circle sign, leading us from small forests to small lakes with empty boats and white water lilies. Short arched bridges were guiding our steps till the next polite concrete paved path in the middle of the quiet trees. We met many other short time travellers, but we just passed by without not even looking to each other.

DSC01213For a little treat on a hot day, we made a stop at the Boddensee restaurant, a small wooden hotel surrounded by water. Waiters in uniforms welcomed us with a menu whose prices were worth at least a half shining of a Michelin star. Disappointed by the scarcity of our demands, they brought us the cold cokes and smiled when we left.DSC01218

But not for food experiences we were in Briesetal, but for more walking and deep breathing. Just took another 0.6 km tour around the lake Monchsee.DSC01225

There is a little bit more in Briesetal to see. For instance,some spectacular street art decorating the walls of a youth center.

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Or the interesting architecture of the main street, combining old high wooden balconies with modern cubic architecture.

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The shopping opportunities are minimal: the usual food supermarkets and some small local clothes or gardening businesses.DSC01237Without consumerist temptations, I keep documeting the green oasis, tooking just another concrete paved way. You don’t even need special shoes or previous special hiking training. DSC01252The next and last stop was in a small birch forest inspirely located on the Birkenwaldstrasse (birken means birch). The locals cleaning their cars or fixing their yard noticed us with a shy smile, enough to fell us less intruders.DSC01264

The forest continues through a short walk through a newly harvested wheat field. A large area with plain golden roots. On the sides, bushes of wild plants, aparently inspiring enough some street art artist.

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The rest of the trip we slowly walked the streets near Hohen Neundorf. Nothing especially to notice except the big houses with curious eyes not used apparently with expats talking a bit too loudly for this time of the afternoon. The discovery of a gladiola field, at Blumenfelde (flowers’ field) interrupted the monotony. You just need to leave some money in a box and make your own bouquet. I did never appreciate this type of flowers and chose to leave the flowers for someone really in need for some special decorations. In the middle of the overwhelming green, the richness of the colours reminded me how easy is to be happy with your lot, your travel lot,of course.

For more images from Briesetal, check the dedicated Pinterest board

Remedies against the rain in Potsdam

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Berlin and especially Brandenburg that I extensively explored in the last weeks offered me a gorgeous unexpected summer, but little by little, everything will become memories and eventually travel blog posts. The cold raining season is in full bloom and need to switch not only the wardrobe and shoes, but also the bags, big enough to welcome an umbrella. Regardless of how much I love to discover other places in Brandenburg, I have a big weakness for Potsdam that makes me want to come back every couple of weeks. This time I want to see a face I never explored it, which includes the cultural headquarters. I went out of the SBahn at Babelsberg station and from there, took the tram for a couple of stations till the port.

DSC01512As in many places in Berlin, this is a favourite area for bikers of all ages, unstoppable by the rain and any other bad weather signs. Following the arrows I am heading direction Schieffbauergasse and the artistic encounters on the way indicates that I am going in the right direction.  DSC01513In just a couple of minutes, I am in the middle of the cultural district of Potsdam, offering from concerts to dance shows and alternative theatre, plus some pubs and green eateries.DSC01515Everything is hosted in the Art Yard (Kunsthof) that because of the rain and the late afternoon hour it is relatively empty.DSC01516

The last visitors are busy to finish reading the information about the very interesting FLUXUS movement which has a dedicated museum in Potsdam. Encouraging happenings and spontaneity and oriented against the commercial art, the movement developped in the 1960s and had many similarities with the Dadaist and Suprarealist art streams.DSC01525

One of the buildings that I wanted to see and photograph for a long time is Hans Otto Theater, whose bold reddish silhouette I admired at different moments of the day during various boat trips I took in the last years. This time, I see it under a grey sky and from close it may look not only interesting, but also a bit threatening. Not it seems for the couples founding refuge from rain under the pagoda-like roofs. DSC01538

Armed with a pink umbrella I bought in Jerusalem, I ignore the insistent drops of rain and keep walking more around the lakes, trying to be careful not to stumble upon the very fast squirrels that started the harvest time for the winter. Welcome, autumn! DSC01539

Shortly, I am in another new place for me, at the New Garden, which I explored only partially a couple of years back when I was writing a travel guide about Potsdam. This time I stop in the part guarded by the so-called Gothic Library, a cold stone construction which also hosts couples refugiated against the rain. Potsdam seems to be a city of love, which I completely agree…DSC01542

Wish I can have time to have a short meditation with a view over the lake, but this time the view from the top of the stairs is enough to inspire me.  DSC01552

On way back to the central area, the architecture of some houses surprises me, a mixture of Dutch and reddish typical Brandenburg stones with blue windows frames. A couple of streets away, some new white apartment buildings, with high ceilings and small balconies, a sign that Potsdam is not only a place for students, teachers for oversea and history lovers, but also is turning into a posh place to live. DSC01553

The rain is about to calm down and I take my chance to get a bit lost on the long alleys of the 18th century New Garden, which is showing me another different side. The geometrically planned alleys reminding of the my favourite Brandenburg architect Schinkel are part since 1990 of the UNESCO World Heritage. DSC01558If you are looking for meeting artists and arts lovers in Potsdam, Cafe Matschke is one recommended places. The best is to go there during the summer and enjoy the artistic ambiance of the garden, but inside is also cosy and inspiring. DSC01560This time, I do not have time to stop to the 19th century Russian colony of Alexandrowka, but I still have pleasant memories about the pastry nuts filled with cream that reminded me so much of sweet childhood treats. DSC01562

I keep walking decided to both look for a place to stop before going back to Berlin, but also curious what new discoveries will have during this short Postdam trip. Hopefully there are so many things to discover that I don’t feel disappointed of too much walking.

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The diversity of architectural styles and materials used is rewarding and I keep looking to the right and to the left, keen to do not miss anything important and with the camera always in action. DSC01566

I finally get closer to the central area through one of the 6 gates (Tören) of the city, Jägertor, the oldest one, built in 1733. Smaller than Brandenburg Gate a couple of minutes away and less touristic maybe but situated around streets with many local restaurants. DSC01572

The architecture of this area is predominanly following the programatic principles of Schinkel which may look too corect and less spontaneous at the first sight. But if you know how to correctly use your eyes, you may find some surprises. DSC01573

As I have a sweet tooth, I hope to find some waffles or pancakes – or both – in the Dutch quarter. Built in 1733 by Jan Bouman, it has 134 red brick buildings hosting various vintage shops and coffee places. Unfortunately for me, after two full days of a local street festival, all my potential surces of culinary delight are too tired to keep open till late afternoon. Time for a change of plans…

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As usual, it is all for the good. For a long time I wanted to start the gourmet exploration of Potsdam and the French restaurant Jero was on the top. This time, the rain and the lack of options brought me here, and the expensive and high class bottles of wine covering the walls welcomed me into the intimate ambiance smelling of freshly cooked truffles. The SansSouci cold water was brought fast and most importantly with a smile, followed by a generous cappuccino and my sweet choice, a big cup of creme brulee, more expensive than the usual average sample you can find. Not an unforgettable taste, but nothing bad to say about it either – except that maybe for the 8 Euro you would have wait something a little bit special. However, I felt good enough to plan soon a new gourmet experience here, and maybe in other high class places in Potsdam tool.

All being said and planned, I can’t wait to be back!