About Sherry Ott
Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of Briefcase to Backpack, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice.
She also runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at Ottsworld
Latest Posts by Sherry Ott
I laid out my new sleeping bag on the thick mat under the stars. It was muggy outside but I still got into the down sleeping bag else I felt too exposed. I turned off my head lamp and said goodnight to my fellow travelers going through the same ritual nearby. As I lay there, I was still wondering if my decision to sleep outside of the tent was a sound one, but I tried to calm my worries of scorpions and other creepy, crawly things by instead focusing on the stars above me. An almost unreal twinkle of stars in various galaxies was laid out in front of me in spectacular fashion. What Oman lacks in trees, it makes up for in stargazing.
A day ago, when I arrived in Oman in the wee morning hours I watched the sun come up and light up the capital city of Muscat, showing me my first glimpse of the color palette that would grace my vision for the next 9 days – white, tan, cream & brown. It was as if the other colors were forbidden from Oman – the color red was most certainly turned away at the border. Even the cars zipping around the modern capital city of Muscat followed the color pattern.
My first day in Oman was packed with new experiences. After a few key tourist stops, we dove right into the rough stuff – we started hiking. Our guide led us on a short hike called wadi (valley) in Muscat. It was challenging for my body and mind to adjust to the heat and the terrain. The wadi hike was short but challenging with lots of ups and downs and rock scramble type hiking. The sun beat down me and I looked around for shady shelter – there was none. This was the beginning of my hiking holiday without trees.
As I lay there under the stars at our first campsite I finally drifted off to sleep, but was woken up at 3AM when it started to rain. The idea of sleeping outside under the stars all of a sudden seemed like a really bad idea. My outdoor sleeping mates and I groggily got up and started to put up our emergency tent that we originally thought there was a 1% chance of having to use it.
I can now add setting up a tent in the middle of the night with a headlamp in the rain to my list of “strange things I never thought I would do”.
Even though I was off to a rough start to the camping and hiking – like most things with travel, it’s just a matter of getting used to your new environment and getting your body and mind in a rhythm – the Oman rhythm. The next morning we were up early with the sun, ate our simple camp breakfast, tore down the campsite, and off we went towards the mountains. The camping and hiking rhythm had begun and my body soon adjusted to sleeping in a tent, doing it’s ‘business’ outside in nature, scrambling up rocks, being dirty for days, going to bed at 9PM and getting up at 6AM with the sun – all the simplicities and joys of a camping/hiking trip.
Hiking in Oman was the star of the show – the headliner – the diva; and it deserves all of the attention. We did a hike every day for an average of 4 hrs a day of hiking – some days longer, some shorter. Even though the treeless, brown landscape felt like it lacked variety at times – there were definite differences among the mountain hiking and coastal hiking we did. The mountains kept us cool at higher altitudes and graced us with bottomless canyons, while the coast brought humidity, rugged coastline, intense sun, and sea air.
The hiking was definitely a medium to hard rating for me – it was challenging since most of the trails we went on were not marked. These unmarked trails can be fun as you are really blazing your own path, but they are not as maintained and it’s easy to get a bit lost if you lose sight of the group. This also meant that you were left doing some challenging scrambles up and down the wadis picking your own path.
Even though I did all of my hiking in trail shoes – I would have liked a bit more ankle and sole support – I would recommend proper hiking boots for a serious Oman hiking holiday like this one. Often we were scrambling over boulders and rocks – there was seldom even ground in Oman! Some of the wadi/canyon hikes took us through water up past our knees which was refreshing – but also a bit nerve-wracking if you aren’t used to that type of hiking. There were also a few narrow sections that challenged my fear of heights each day – however the canyon views were worth it!
We were provided with tents, a thick sleeping mat, and I had to bring my own sleeping bag. Even though I was melting in the sun most of the days while hiking, at night when the sun went down in the mountains so would the temperatures. They hovered around freezing most nights on Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar! My gloves and down coat definitely came in handy. There was no access to a shower for 5 days, so wet wipes were a lifesaver. This was really what I would call ‘wild camping’ – we were roughing it and there was nothing glamorous about it. But once I got in the groove of it – I really loved it. I think the best thing you can do for yourself and your vacation time is to simplify – and camping is simplicity at it’s best.
After setting up camp and our tents we would gather wood for a camp fire and then sit around the fire and relax a bit while our guides cooked up massive feasts for us to eat. I loved our campfire conversations and star gazing lessons from Rob. We even found marshmallows to toast around the campfire! This campfire time was also the time that Rob would brief us for the next day’s itinerary.
Our campsites were remote and scenic – some better than others. In fact the only visitors we saw around our campsite in the mountains were goats – we never even saw another person. On the days we did coastal hiking, all of our camping gear was delivered by boat “James Bond style”. The beach spots were lovely – there’s nothing better then having the waves lull you to sleep in your tent. Plus – it was a nice to have the option to take a dip in the water after sweaty day of treeless hiking.
This 9 day itinerary was full of hiking, but it was also full of driving. We did spend a decent amount of time in the cars in order to get from place to place some days. A typical day would take us hiking in the morning and then driving in the afternoon to get to our next spot. This was a great way to see a wide variety of the country as well as the different hiking opportunities. In addition, this meant that we never had to carry our camping gear – it was always transported by car.
Plus – many times the drives were absolutely stunning as we wound through the wadis and then would go on some intense hairpin climbs and descents up the mountains on little gravel pathways without any guard rails. A 4 wheel drive and nerves of steel was necessary everywhere we went!
Since we really were camping 8 of the 9 days – the food was good, fresh, but simple. Typical camping food of stews, pastas, and rice were the norm. Fruit, coffee, and tea were always in big supply. I personally was thrilled to have cereal (the true American breakfast!) for one of our breakfast options, along with yogurt and bread. Our lunches were normally on the go – a simple spread of pita bread, tuna, hummus, corn, cucumbers, and salad. It was actually quite perfect to eat light during our hiking and then have a bigger camp dinner for energy for the next day.
We also made our share of gas station stops for snacks, soda, cookies and chocolate emergencies! The beauty of a hiking holiday is that you get to eat all the ‘good’ stuff! I was definitely sweating off the calories I took in.
The last night of camping we went out with a bang – we had a huge fish BBQ on the beach after our longest and hardest day of hiking. Khalfan, who was from a small fishing village, was responsible for preparing and cooking up the two huge fish we bought at the market. He stuffed the fish with veggies and spices, wrapped them tinfoil, and threw the packet over the hot coals for 30 minutes. We had an Omani style feast eating with our hands all picking off the fish in the middle around the campfire on the beach.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Exodus Travels on this Oman trekking holiday. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own.
I used to treat myself to a bouquet of flowers weekly to spruce up my apartment and my attitude. Seriously – how can you be stressed or angry with a colorful bouquet of flowers in your home? I made a decision to enjoy flowers every day as opposed to just special occasions or worse yet – to wait for people to bring them to me. Even though I travel full time – I realized that I can still make fresh flowers a part of my life by incorporating flower travel into my itineraries.
I was recently invited to the Netherlands to experience the spring flowers – something that I’ve always wanted to see – the famous Netherlands tulip fields. I quickly found out that there was much more to the Netherlands flower culture than just tulip fields – see for yourself!
I went on a canal cruise in Amsterdam during my stay and it was a special commentary about the history or tulips and how a Turkish flower came to be known as a Dutch flower. It also covered the famous “Tulip Mania” – a period where tulips were effectively used as currency in Europe and were sold/traded for enormously absurd prices.
Mixing botany and animals – the Artis Zoo in Amsterdam includes impressive gardens in addition to animals. My favorite area was the Forest House where you basically walked into a live environment with the animals roaming freely instead of in cages. In fact – essentially you entered their cage.
Spring was just starting to come out at the small but beautifully designed and diverse De Hortus Botanical Garden in Amsterdam. They have a outdoor gardens and old and new green houses. My favorite area was the Palm House – a beautiful old building that was the star of the park.
It’s like the Rose Bowl Parade but better – it’s the Bulb Flower Parade and it travels 40 km from Noordwijk to Haarlem highlighting aprox. 50 floats and decorated cars. I was able to visit the building where all of the floats were being created. The moment you stepped in the building you were overwhelmed with flower aroma. It was a bustle of activity as people were putting the finishing touches on the floats to be highlighted in the next day’s parade.
If you drive from Amsterdam to Keukenhof Gardens – you will of course come across the famous colorful flower fields. Many of the fields during my visit were filled with Hyacinths.
It’s like the Wall Street of Flowers. I’ve actually visited Flora Holland – a huge flower auction sight and distribution center on a previous visit – but it’s so vast that you learn something every time you go.
Of course if you are visiting Holland to see the flowers then you must make a stop at Keukenhof Gardens – a spring garden that is only open for 2 months of the year and then dug up and redesigned every year. 7 million tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths all in bloom create a spectacular pallet of color not to mention aroma. This is landscaping and gardening at it’s very best.
Where are some of your favorite places to do Flower Travel?
Disclosure: I was a guest of IAmsterdam for this tour of flowers through the Netherlands. However – all opinions expressed here are my own.
I felt as if the whole city of Copenhagen was under construction. All of the beautiful squares and plazas were not only torn up, but they were dusty, and loud. The sounds of equipment was in the air as I tried to visit many of the famous buildings and squares around town. Above is an open air exhibition in the most unusual of places.
The city is expanding their subway system and adding a new circle line around the center of the city. This is a huge project that will take years to complete. In the end they will be better off or course – but currently Copenhagen has a few growing pains to get through.
However I love it when people can turn a negative into a positive – and Copenhagen has done just that. Even though the construction is ugly, loud, and never ending – they have decided to use the walls that surround the construction sites as open air galleries called “Cool Construction”. The project was launched by Metroselskabet in an attempt to make construction site fences a positive part of urban life through temporary projects designed for their local environment.
“The fences we use for art and other good stuff to make a better city while we are building,” says a sign in flashy red written on the green construction wall.
As I walked through the city tourist spots, I was mesmerized by some of the construction art exhibits on display.
I thought is was a fabulous urban planning idea to use the space for arts instead of letting it get plastered with flyers and advertisements.
And of course I took a few photos of my favorites.
A wind exhibit – thousands of little metallic circles blowing in the wind
The wind exhibit up close
A bike is parked in front of a brightly painted construction wall – part of the open air exhibit.
I adored this specific photography project that intertwined two cultures titled A Scarf is a Scarf is a Scarf.
How did the hijab become such a symbol of Denmark, that it sometimes even keeps us from communicating with each other? The photos explore the cultural and historical relationship of head scarfs from the Danish island of Fanoe and Indonesian Island of Java. From the tiny island of Fanoe in Denmark, sailors went to the other side of the world and brought back scarfs (hijabs) as gifts for the women of Fanoe. These scarfs, from a much different culture, became a staple in the daily wear, and the exotic scarfs became an integrated part of Danish culture.
What happens if we take a scarf that carries both cultures in it and we switch? The constructions walls display photography of Indonesian women wear ing the Fanoe head scarf with different patterns and Danish women wearing traditional hijab styles.
A Scarf is a Scarf exhibition next to Copenhagen City Hall
The trees limbs were heavy with freshly fallen snow providing a peaceful backdrop on this entirely eerie place. I had made my way outside of Berlin to the little community of Beelitz on this snowy Easter weekend to photograph Beelitz Heilstätten, a sanatorium for tuberculosis treatment methods in the early 20th century. Above photo is of the crumbling Beelitz stairway..
In 1898, Beelitz Heilstätten opened with 600 beds to treat the ill. The sanatorium was strictly divided along gender lines: women were accommodated to the west of the main road, men to the east. As it grew over the next few years more buildings were added and it turned into a ‘city for the ill’ with a post office, restaurant, stables, water tower, power plant, butcher shop, and even a beer garden. As time and history marched on around Berlin, the sanatorium also served at a wartime hospital, and a GDR hospital, in addition to continuing to serve TB patients with ‘advanced technology’.
The extensive sanatorium ‘campus’ has been abandoned since 1994 and now is in the familiar limbo of many historic, unused buildings in/around the Berlin area. While the government and owners decide what the fate of the Beelitz campus is, companies like Go2know have been granted special permission to run photography tours through the crumbling buildings. The site is so extensive that they have separate photo tours for the men’s and women’s section.
I took the photo tour to the women’s section of the sanatorium and we were able to walk around the snowy grounds and inside 3 main buildings and photograph to our heart’s content. I love these tours since they are a great setting to practice with lighting and composition. I didn’t take a tripod with me – so that makes it even more challenging in these low light situations. The tour information was only provided in German – but there were enough people there to translate for me and honestly I was there to do photography – so I didn’t need much guidance. And quite frankly – the ‘leader’ simply gives an overview of the history, buildings, and things to be careful of or special things to see, he hands you a blueprint layout of the buildings, and then you are own your own for 4 to 5 hours to explore! The ultimate photography tour if you ask me!
I walk down the stairs and hear the familiar sound of the Berlin Ubahn arriving on the tracks below – I instinctively pick up my pace and start to race down the stairs, around the corner, down a final set of stairs and slip into the Ubahn before the doors slide shut! It’s days like today that I feel like a local in Berlin. Getting comfortable with the transportation system is always a first step to really learning about a city for me.
I take a seat and catch my breath and realize that there’s one thing that made this Berlin Ubahn dash possible – the ticket ‘honor system’. There was no gate to pass through as I ran down the stairs and onto the train – no one or no system to check a ticket at the station. However, I’m safe as I know that I have a validated ticket in my pocket. The entire Berlin transportation system runs on the idea that people are being truthful – that they have a ticket. The only checks and balances of this system are the occasional Ubahn agents who roam the trains asking to see your ticket. Of course if you don’t have one then you are faced with a hefty fine. But I wonder how many of the Berliners have validated tickets who are riding this train? Does the honor system actually work in Germany?
Could this system work in the United States? (please leave your opinions in the comments below) What if the NYC the subway was run on the ‘honor system’ would people actually pay – or would they try to gamble with the system? I took some time to ask locals if they gamble with the system in Berlin and on average the majority were truthful – in fact it didn’t really even dawn on them to not have a ticket since it’s operated this way forever. Yet if I ask the majority of Americans – I’m willing to bet that they would gamble on the system. If we can find a way around something – we normally do it.
The honor system is only one of the reasons I adore the public transit system in Berlin. The complete system is one of the most extensive systems in any city I’ve been in. You never have to walk far if you don’t want to once you’ve mastered the Ubahns, Sbahns , buses, and trams. Between the 4 systems – you are always close to some sort of public transportation. It’s so extensive I don’t even know if there is one public transport map with all of the various lines on it. I normally had to use two – the Ubahn/SBahn map and the tram map. I never really learned the buses…that’s the transportation big leagues – I was still in the minors. The whole system is technically advanced as all of the stops have boards that tell you when the next transport will arrive. Only once in the month did that system fail me – pretty impressive.
The Ubahn was the first thing that I mastered. It’s is the subway system that occasionally runs above ground in some neighborhoods. It’s old – but easy to use. There are 9 lines, with 151 km of track and 170 stations. However during the weekdays, they don’t run all night – they generally shut down around 1am and yes – I’ve been caught without a public transit way home before.
One thing I love about the Ubahn is that each stop is color coded. I quickly learned that Alexanderplatz (which I affectionately refer to as Times Square thanks to the many connections there) was an aqua colored tile. While other stops were yellow or red, or blue. So even if you were coming to a stop and didn’t see the name on a sign anywhere – you sort of knew if you were in the right place based on the color. I used this knowledge more than once! In fact – I recently came across this great Ubahn photo documentary of all of the stations here.
The Sbahn circles the city as well as cuts through the center. They always run above ground and are great for getting from one end of the city to the other in a quick fashion. There are 15 lines and they integrate with the Ubahn and the ticket system there. If you take the S5, S75 or the S7 lines that cut through the middle of the city – you can see the visible change in architecture from East to West Berlin that still exists today lingering from the Cold War.
Now it starts to get a little more challenging – the trams run in old East Berlin mainly. They wind around the neighborhoods like a pretzel. The trams serve 789 stops, which means one stop every 459 metres. So you can see that I had a much harder time figuring out where these all went – but I did take the time to learn the main lines that were directly around me and pretty much stuck to those. If I had been there longer I would have got on them randomly to see where they went – that’s probably the best way to learn!
Then there’s the buses – I only rode those with a local or with a local’s help. They are easy to use – but figuring out their routes and stops are more time consuming.
Berlin transportation ticket prices are pretty reasonable at 2.40 € for a single ride – but they offer daily, weekly, and monthly tickets that are a much better value. And all of this on the honor system – there are no machines to check your tickets or gates to pass through. But if you do decide to do the right thing and pay for a ticket (which I suggest that you do!) don’t forget to validate your ticket at the little yellow boxes on the platforms or on the buses/trams – else you your ticket means nothing.
A blanket of snow covered the vast, flat runway – there would be no planes taking off today. Actually – there will be no planes taking off from Tempelhof airport ever again. The famous airport that was used during world wars and the cold war was shut down in 2008 – but it’s legacy lives on in various ways.
The uber traveler in me has always been intrigued by the thought of an abandoned airport. I had heard so many things about Tempelhof park in Berlin that I was quite excited to finally see it. I envisioned me running around the open, flat, empty runway – a unique experience any intrepid traveler would dream about. However when I woke up, looked out my window and saw Berlin blanketed in snow yet again – my visions of running down the runway were dashed. Maybe a snowman on the runway instead?
Looking forward – not backward.
You can easily learn about all of the fascinating history of Tempelhof – from its beginnings to WWII, to Cold War airlift, to commercial airport. However, instead of looking back I want to look forward into what the future holds for this vast structure and park. City development and infrastructure fascinate me – especially in Berlin – a city with so many abandoned and run down structures. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about Berlin’s gentrification and development issues during my month in Berlin. However I find Tempelhof to be the place with the most exciting potential in Berlin – and that’s why I want to look forward.
I was led around the airport by Martin, one of the PR people from Tempelhof Projekt – a company the Berlin parliament founded in 2010 to manage the urban development project. The Tempelhof Projekt has a big task ahead of them – repurposing the Tempelhof buildings and area for Berlin while trying to keep the public happy. As we all know, this is about impossible – but I was impressed with their plans and progress up to this point.
The overall plan focuses on social, cultural and economic diversity in the development. Currently there are really two sections to this project – the Airport buildings and the Airport park/runways/green space. There are over 9,000 rooms in the various airport buildings as well as some large open spaces that are truly unique such as the Apron, the plane hangars, a basketball court , bowling alley, and the main hall. The buildings are already kept up and used for business trade shows, concerts, conventions, and fashion shows. This unique space is perfect for earning revenue and having some truly huge events.
Tempelhof Projekt has further plans to do new development around the edges of the runways/park adding some housing, business offices, a library, as well as a café on the roof which bring it back to the roof’s original purpose – a viewing area for the public. This work of course needs to be approved by the city and is still a few years from getting off the ground (no pun intended!) – it’s projected for 2016.
The runway/park area is another story – it includes 360 hectares of land – a big space and a very flat, treeless space currently. The old runways are a focal point and no changes are intended to take away the airport feel – but instead enhance around the edges. They want to add aprox. 1,500 trees to the perimeter areas and add a few more walking paths that work with the current runways and open space. They are also planning to add a water basin that will collect the gallons of rainwater runoff and funnel it into the landscape. Some of these park projects have been approved to begin as soon as this year with some of the tree plantings and water basin.
I’m most excited about what they are planning with the park – as I looked over the snowy field – I tried to imagine such a vast space all green and filled with kite boarders, runners, walkers, families, and pets. Even on this snowy day there were a couple of kite surfers and walkers – I can only imagine the summer months!
Of course not everyone thinks this plan for Tempelhof is a good one. Some Berliners are worried that the park will be overdeveloped and will drive the prices up around the area making it unaffordable to the long time residents of this community. Classic gentrification concerns. I too would hate to see any of that happen – however I do think that the some progress and change is necessary for the space to really thrive and make it a real community gathering place that honors the original structure and purpose of the land.
The proposed changes are going through the proper political hoops now so we’ll see where all of this urban planning really ends up in the next few years.
As I walked around in this massive empty structures – I felt like I was on a film set. I kept on imagining Borne Identity being filmed here, or Leo DiCaprio filming Catch Me If You Can. There’s something intriguing about big empty buildings – they make you realize how important people are to bring things to life.
Walking around the grounds and the buildings with Martin made me think about the success of the New York City High-Line and the years of indecision around it. Now many of the people in NYC embrace it as a wonderful green space and tourist landmark. These types of community projects that preserve the history are a win/win for everyone normally. I can’t wait to come back in a few years and see what type of progress happens at Tempelhof.
And if you want to see what an empty airport looks like – then check out the daily tours that are run through the buildings here:
Public tours – www.tempelhoferfreiheit.de/en/visit/tours/building-tours/public-tours/
Development tours – www.tempelhoferfreiheit.de/en/visit/tours/building-tours/special-tours/
General Information – www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Tempelhof_Airport
During my stay in Berlin I was a guest of Go with Oh who furnished my apartment in Friedrichshain. I was also a guest of Tempelhof Projekt Projekt for this Tempelhof tour. However all of the opinions expressed here are my own.
The simple 3 letter word – spy – always conjures up adventurous stories. imagination, and occasionally a martini and a biniki. While in Berlin, I was able to turn my imagination into reality when I went to go visit the famous spy station Teufelberg at one of the highest points in Berlin. The high point is actually man made – and the name translates into Devil’s Mountain and the mountain is created from landfill and trash. But it doesn’t matter how it got there – the important thing is that it served a purpose…and that purpose was spying on Berlin Cold War enemies. Above photo is a listening station during the Cold War.
Teufelberg was occupied by the US and the British during the Cold War and served as a listening station. Consider this hill and these abandoned structures one giant hearing aid. It was used for listening to Soviet, East German, and other Warsaw Pact nations’ military traffic.
Now of course you can get a tour of the abandoned windowless structures on the weekends for a cost of $20USD and hear all of the spy stories. Hopefully you’ll go there on a day that isn’t blustery cold like we did! When it’s nice out – it’s provides one of the nicest views of Berlin and the surrounding lakes.
Tours are possible every Saturday and Sunday at 12:30 pm. If there aren’t enough applies,the guide speaks German, but may answer your questions in English between the stops.
Disclosure: During my stay in Berlin I was a guest of Go with Oh who furnished my apartment in Friedrichshain. I was also a guest of Berlin Sight Out of this Teufelberg tour. However all of the opinions expressed here are my own.
One of the best things about Berlin is the vast amount of ethnic food choices you have in the city. However – what about the German food – where is it hiding? I’m happy to tell you that I found it – Sauerbraten and spätzle! I was so happy I felt like polka dancing – in my lederhosen! After being in Berlin for 2 weeks and eating Indian, Mexican, Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Russian – finally – I was going to eat German food. And I wasn’t just going to eat it – I was going to learn how to make it.
Karina, my friend and Berlin expert, had suggested that I try out this cooking class in Kreuzberg in order to learn about some classic German dishes. Since she was also a closet sauerbraten lover – she invited herself long. Smart lady.
Together we entered Coledampf’s and Companies store/classroom. As I entered and started looking around the shop, my eyes focused in on the details – the space was industrial, metallic, and beautifully designed. This wasn’t just a cooking classroom – it was more of a creative space for food lovers and chefs. The cleverly designed store section sold high quality pots/pans and cooking accessories to restaurants and uber foodies. However the space also included a lunch café, a coffee bar, and a cooking ‘classroom’. Somehow this all fit together seamlessly as a shrine to food.
As I oohed and ahhhhed about the tables made out of doors and saw horses, the chairs, and the store design, Chef Ralf ensured we all had some coffee and instructed us to site down for a little sauerbraten history before we started the hands on work.
Sauerbraten has been around for over 1000 years and was originally a way to preserve food without refrigeration. It became a popular way to keep meat and Ralf told us that originally it was made with horsemeat. It is of utmost importance that the marinade ingredients be of high quality and that you provide ample marinade time – 48 hours minimum. The sauerbraten we’d be cooking today had been marinating for 4 days!
He pointed to a little chalk board full of diagrams and loads of German words – yes – this class was in German – so I was at a slight disadvantage. But my secret weapon was Karina who tried her best to translate for me – so forgive the lack of detail in this post – I will let the photos do most of the talking for me. Karina did say that the quality of questions being asked had her a little intimidated – the people in this class were pretty serious about cooking! This was definitely not a little tourist class – the class was full of locals who were part of a longer cooking series that Coledampf’s offered. However individuals like Karina and I can join any single class at any time too.
Germany’s Next Top Chef
Chef Ralf handed us an apron and we entered the metallic kitchen. I felt as if I had walked onto the set of Germany’s Next Top Chef! We didn’t really get recipes and it wasn’t a step by step type of class – instead we all served as sous chefs helping out Ralf and his real Sous Chef did pieces of the meal. We were making not one, but FOUR type of sauerbraten – one of which Chef Ralf himself had never made before – fish sauerbraten. We also had rabbit sauerbraten, lamb sauerbraten and the traditional beef sauerbraten being marinated. I was happy I had a very light breakfast – this was going to be a day of eating.
The chefs all decided upon the side dishes on the spot and started us chopping up squash, cutting onion, and creating the spätzle dough. I have a little confession – I love spätzle – LOVE it. I had never seen it made from scratch – so I was pretty excited about this process. However – after seeing the effort that it took to make it from scratch – I promptly decided that ordering it at a restaurant was much more enjoyable! The spätzle dough is a very hands on process – it literally has to be slapped around with your hands for about 30 minutes until it gets to the right consistency. Luckily I was not the one ‘hand-picked’ for this effort as I hid behind the my camera as Chef Ralf took volunteers. However I did get picked to form the dough into noodles – a complex process to master as I quickly found out!
Nothing was measured – The chefs cooked to taste – this was the cooking big leagues. Slightly intimidating for me who typically cooks with a recipe and measuring cups! We all helped prepare the dishes and as each dish was ready we plated it up nicely and then all sat down at a communal table and ate it. Each sauerbraten had a side dish – so basically I ate 4 main dishes that afternoon – yes – I was sauerbraten stuffed…and very happy. For each course one of the other owners picked a beautiful wine to go with the course – so it really was a complete food experience.
I Know Who Made My Shoes
I sat and talked with one of the owners to learn more about this innovative concept for a creative cooking studio. He said that the store was based off the saying “I know who made my shoes.” Meaning it was a community based business and they wanted a ‘face’ to the product. They wanted to create a relaxed atmosphere – even down to the silverware – you pick your own flatware out of the middle of the table – they want an inviting feel – not pretentious.
The 3 partners started the store/space/café 1 ½ years ago in this lesser known Kreuzberg neighborhood. They went into this neighborhood because it wasn’t pretentious – it had more of a hard edge and they wanted to bring community to it. They are integrating into the area by working with the other businesses surrounding them and providing an inviting atmosphere.
They of course use local food sources. As I talked to him I was impressed that everything has a personal, local connection in a way. Whether it be the partners who run it together or the people they work with – it feels like a close knit group of people who enjoy what they do – it gives off a great vibe of energy and familiarity.
The Finished Product
Five hours, a bottle of wine, and 1000’s of calories later we had finished our class. It was a fabulous day of cooking and meeting new people with innovative ideas. Plus – even though I was the only tourist in the class – everyone knew how to speak English and I was able to converse with the other students learning more about them, Berlin and Coledampfs & Company.
Coledampf & Company - www.coledampfs-and-companies.de/home.html
Serve breakfast, lunch. Lunch is 6 to 16 Euro – try to make great food accessible.
Coffee bar and snacks open until 8PM
Culinary Friday – the restaurant has special themes and the feel is simple
Also includes a wine shop.
They also run events with their kitchen crew or you can bring in your own.
Cooking School – www.coledampfs-and-companies.de/Kochschule.html