Delicious doughnuts (or, as they’re known here: pfannkuchens, which translates into “pancakes” which is not a very descriptive word for a doughnut),
My mum left last week, and I have thrown myself back into writing—started and finished off a short story, began work on my novel again—mostly thanks to a new practice I’ve begun with a friend who lives close by. We agree to meet three times a week at our local library. where we set up with laptops and reading material and knock out work at a brisk two hour rate. I love my sun-filled glass aquarium of a study but I find being at home is so distracting that I’m not able to really sit down and focus. There’s always procrasti-cleaning, or procrast-cooking, or just catching up on books or TV atop our super comfortable sofa, a hand-me-down from K’s dad. (No, I’m serious, this might be the most comfortable sofa in the entire world and it is appropriately dull looking. K and I and the cats are always fighting for the best spots on it. It’s seriously fucking with my back.) So at home I’m doing some side art projects: this newsletter for one, and I’ve gotten back into painting and related activities, and also I’m thinking of taking up sewing, not in a “I made this myself!” way just yet, but more as a way of experimenting with how adding embroidery to tired old clothes—of which there are plenty available on assorted doorsteps and windowsills of people Marie Kondo-ing their lives—that I have many things to work with.
The good thing about this sort of thing is that it keeps your creative brain engaged but in a way that doesn’t feel like “work.” Writing is work, I mean, it’s amazing and I love it and I couldn’t live without it and so on, but I am often exhausted (and exhilarated if it’s gone well) after a session. Painting and such, it soothes me, gets me into a state where I’m thinking about other things but also working with my hands and seeing how colours and light fit together. It’s a hobby, and something I can do more easily than say, going for a run, which sounds awful.
Speaking of hobbies, I’ve also joined a new class: German language learning with a twist. Instead of a classroom structure with textbooks and grammar, it’s a theatre workshop for German learners. I attended my first one last week, and was a bit at sea because the instructor spoke very fast and everyone else seemed to be at the B1/B2 level of understanding because they all laughed along to her jokes and I was wondering whether to join in the laughter (I’m a joiner!) and pretend or sit there with a polite smile of not-understanding on my face. I chose the latter, the workshop went well, especially since I realised I wasn’t actually the weakest link in the bunch (competition is the only thing that puts the wind beneath my wings to learn something) and we did some fun exercises all of which I mostly understood! It’s on every Tuesday till January and we end with an actual performance which I have forbidden everyone except K from attending and which they have all assured me they will be coming for anyway.
And finally, in the last of my recent life updates (I’ve been extra busy, and something about summer turning into autumn is making me feel the opposite of everyone else: ie, extra energetic and organised. Summer is a lazy time) I’ve been organising a Berlin book event for Soft Animal along with the folk at a lovely new cultural space here for South Asians called Subkontinent. I’ll be in conversation with the wonderful Saskya Jain and if you’re in Berlin and you’re reading this, come! Open to all on October 13th which is also a Friday so spooky VIBES.
My mother and I did this city from top to bottom and we barely scratched the surface. But the nice thing about her staying for a month was that we could schedule some sort of walking tour (sometimes two) or a museum every week and feel like we’d done something between just chilling. Really earning our glasses of wine every evening, y’know? (Rose for me while the warm weather lasted, and she discovered the German sparkling wine very late in her trip but switched to that as soon as she did.)
All the tours were very nice and I’m ranking them here purely in terms of my own enjoyment as a resident of this city and not because they sucked in some other personal way. Also because I thought ranking would be fun and now I’m faced with this list and I’m like, “oh god why did I decide to do this you’re all so nice.”
#8: Sansoucci Palace in Potsdam: Look, it’s not Sansoucci’s fault that we decided to visit on a Tuesday when most of it is closed and it’s very pretty and all, but honestly, once you’ve been to Jaipur most other palaces look pretty meh in comparison. Also we had just had a much more fulfilling hour at my friend’s film university which is close by and then I put my water bottle back in my purse without screwing the lid on tight and my mum’s phone got soaked so she was very upset about this and while the gardens were very pretty I feel like Tiergarten which is closer by (but lacks a palace) is also pretty. Also there was a French tourist on the train home who was rude and it all felt like Sansoucci’s fault even if it wasn’t. We just wandered around the gardens and sat on some rebuilt corridors before we left.
#7: Urban Nation Museum: This is a nice museum full of street art and it’s free but I don’t think it’s worth taking a trip all the way into Schöneberg for it. (West. We are far East.) They had a cool film exhibition happening at their second gallery across the road which showed some pretty filters overlaid on top of short videos called “Berlin Haikus” and I was very inspired so I started to do short videos as well. (You can see all of them on my Instagram profile.) As it happens, we combined this gallery with lunch about a half an hour walk away and then ended with a trip to the library on the way back so we got a lot accomplished.
#6: Architecture tour of Horseshoe Estates: Berlin has an “open day” for practically everything and this was an open day of historical buildings and given how much K and I had enjoyed the architecture tour of the Barbican building in London, I thought this might be fun. Sadly, they had only very few options in English so I picked a guided tour of a small estate built by a guy called Bruno Taut who is a HUGE deal for architectural nerds. It's a really cool set of buildings with the main bit set out like a horseshoe (hence the name) but there’s only so much you can say about it so I felt like it was slightly repetitive. It makes it to number six, however, because it turned out K’s colleague and his partner lived there, in an old historical house which they’ve kept as close to the original as possible. Sitting in their garden and chatting was the best part and she turned out to be very much into Indian cooking, so much so that she was growing a giant karipatta tree and when I admired it, saying how much I missed my own plant back in Delhi, she gave me a sapling to take home with me. It’s doing very well here too and whenever I look at it, I think of that pleasant evening with pleasant people and the Horseshoe Estate sort of works its way in there as well.
#5: Guided walk of the top tourist attractions: Coming in at a solid number five, and the only reason this isn’t ranked higher is because I already knew a lot of the history covered so this isn’t really a tour for people who have lived here for a few years but a nice way to do a quick brush-up of the top attractions; your Brandenburger Tor, your Memorial to the Murdered Jews and so on. Going by a friend’s recommendation, I picked Sandeman’s tours of Berlin as our guide and the woman who led us was super energetic and funny and friendly, so I’d recommend these guys as well. (Free with a suggested tip of 10-15 euros at the end.) My biggest revelation on this tour is that the balcony from which Michael Jackson dangled his baby, Blanket, is right here in Berlin and also right next to the American Embassy. Who knew?
#4 Street Art Tour: Both my mum and I really enjoyed this walk. I’d done one with K back when we were just tourists here, in 2015 I think, and I thought it would be repetitive but I forgot that street art here is so temporary that every six months there’s a new piece to marvel at. My best part was asking our guide, who I made friends with and whose Feminism On The Streets workshop I attended last week, about the identity of a tag that I’ve been obsessed with. They’ve gotten kind of quiet recently, I think they’ve retired. ANYWAY, she tells me that it’s not, in fact, a group of young women, rather an older MAN who is running around writing CLIT in places and this kind of ruined it for me tbh until I had the bright and comforting thought that maybe this old man is, in the manner of several old men, just trying to take credit for something young women are doing.
#3: Long Night of Museums: This was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, in that I’m really glad we did it but I’m not sure I’d do it again. We trotted around from 6 pm to 1.30 am and we were exhausted and barely managed to see five museums, out of which two (Humboldt Forum and Futurium) were already free, so did we get full bang for our collective bucks? I’m not sure. Something about being in a museum at night is fun though, a festive atmosphere even if you are one amongst hundreds going to the Charité Medical Museum and gazing at their collection of fetuses in formaldehyde, truly realising in that moment how much we all like to rubberneck, as the crowd in front of you is three people deep already and you never get close enough to the medical marvels to breathe out at them and watch your breath fog the glass between you.
#2: Berlinische Galerie: Which is a cool modern art museum which just happened to be having an exhibition called Art In Berlin from 1880 to 1980. It was really well done and I enjoyed going from room to room, seeing them all laid out chronologically and seeing how art responded to the current circumstances of the city. I’d never been to the Berlinische Galerie before so it was all new to me. The only bum note is that it was overrun with teenagers, who were there on a class project or something and oh my god, no sooner did I find a quiet spot to look at what was around me than the room would be invaded by literally dozens of them. Youths!
#1 Guided Walk of Tempelhof Airport: Despite the fact that I had woken up really early that morning to go to the Indian Embassy to have my passport renewed and then realised I didn’t have the right format photo and then foolishly decided to walk to get new ones taken thereby not conserving my energy which meant halfway through the walk my body was done, especially since our guide kept leaping through hallways and darting up staircases expecting us to follow, this was such a good walk. Imagine the eeriness of an abandoned airport plus all the cool history that goes into it. Tempelhofer Feld, the large park in front of the old airport building, is so much a part of Berlin’s cultural experience that hearing about the airport, actually seeing inside it, was so cool.
I think I’m happy with these rankings, which I’m also sending to you all because I get a lot of messages about what to do in Berlin so save this, come visit!
Currently reading: Vacillating between two excellent (but different) books from both my libraries. Transit by Rachel Cusk sits on my desk and I read with my coffee or when I’m waiting for my laptop to restart. I’m reading her like a writing manual, so much of what she’s managing to achieve with simple sentences is what I’d like my writing to do as well. So I’m poking at the structure, as it were, and seeing how it holds up.
On my coffee table is Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (is that DOYER or Do-er?) which I just began this morning and which I have already consumed the first quarter of.
And on my bedside is my Kindle because I like to turn off the lights and read in the dark till my eyes get heavy. There I’m reading Jane Harper’s Force of Nature which is an Australian murder mystery. Lovely.
Currently watching: Downton Abbey, and this time I have sucked K into it so we are BOTH enthralled.
If you enjoyed this newsletter or any of my others, please buy me a coffee! It’s not much and it keeps the lights on (in my heart as well as in real life.)
Looking for the link list? I’ve shifted it to a weekly round-up instead. ICYMI, the first edition is here.
Have a great week!
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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