Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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Glitter, Glitter

That’s what the end of the week is doing. It’s glittering at me. In five sleeps’ time, I’m collecting my friend, K, from the airport and then we’re driving to Berlin (I can’t stay away; I’m addicted) for a week of sightseeing, shopping, eating and non-stop talking. Since we have seven children between us, and they will all be far far away with their daddies, there might also be a little bit of sleeping, reading in bed, working on novels, and stopping off for chai lattes at any moment of the day or night BECAUSE WE CAN.

K and I have known each other for 26 years. I got a little weepy when I worked that out. Twenty-six years is a long time to know someone. Two other friends are supposed to be with us, but can’t for various reasons. One of them I have known for 32 years and the other for 20. Clearly, I am someone who is hard to shake off. Once I find you and decide you’re mine, then we’re friends for life.

Remember what it was like to make a friend at the age of 12? You spent long afternoons together, and then phoned each other as soon as you got home. You discussed every detail of your life minutely. My family lived out of town, so I made it my habit to spend nights at my friends’ houses. They really couldn’t get rid of me. I partook in their family lives, sat around their dinner-tables and listened to their parents talk. I became a bit of a fixture, like a wall-hanging or a lamp. While my parents’ marriage was falling apart and my mother was slowly finding her feet again, both K’s family and that of my friend who I have known for 32 years became my replacement families. They both offered me a place where I could feel secure. So they are more than friends, really. They are sisters.

Last week, someone I know told me that I have let her down, that I have not been a good friend to her. That gave me pause for thought, because I have always considered myself a good friend. I have been known to forget the odd birthday (sorry E), but generally, I make my friendships a priority. It’s much harder now to give my friends the time I used to be able to give when I was 12, given that my life has become exponentially fuller.

My mother always said that you have friends for different reasons and different times of your life. I have old friends, new friends, German friends, expat friends, friends whose children are my children’s friends, blog friends, book friends, writing friends, friends my husband found for me, friends I have stolen from him and friends whose husbands or wives are his friends. Usually friends fall into more than one category, and the more categories the better. I think what happened with this friend who is disappointed with me is that I haven’t allowed her to rise above a certain category in which I’ve pegged her, and she would really like to defy her category and be more to me. I’ve been a bit rigid with her. I see that now.

Now, all you category-defying friends, I need to get back to work. I may manage to post before Berlin, but I may not. Forgive me if I don’t. I’ll be back soon, with stories.


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Berlin Magic

Berlin is the most fabulous city on the planet. Repeat after me: Berlin is the Most Fabulous City on the Planet. Good children. Now, take off your shoes, find a comfy chair, and let me tell you about my weekend of Berlin magic. It was a whirlwind, a rush of images and impressions, of firsts and of shoulda-done-this-a-long-time-agoes. I visited Berlin for the first time on my first-ever weekend alone with my husband since our first child was born, so be warned, any superlatives you may encounter in this post are partially due to the sensation of extreme liberation. This was not just Charlotte does Berlin, but Charlotte does Berlin ON STEROIDS.

On with the superlatives then …

Berlin is a city of staggering proportions. Even the Hauptbahnhof where our train arrived is a sparkling monument of glass. Berlin has giant boulevards, enormous buildings and a huge spirit. Berlin is relaxed. Berlin is a laugh. Berlin is spontaneous. Berlin is old and new, East and West, prewar and postwar. It is tragic. It is humbling. It is humane. It is the best fun I’ve had in years.

We arrived at our beautiful Friedrichstrasse hotel at 11pm, dropped our bags and went out for dinner. We strolled down the Oranienburgerstrasse, which is a stunning mixture of hip hotels, restaurant, bars, open lots full of weeds and graffiti-ied walls, imbiss stands, working girls in thigh-high boots and crowds of people. This street falls in the district of Berlin Mitte, which my Lonely Planet guide describes as “the glamorous heart of Berlin, a high-octane cocktail of culture, commerce and history”. It’s also former East Berlin, so the tang of freedom and laissez-faire was particularly envigorating. We had a stroll, a curry and then retired.

On Saturday we – ahem – slept late (this is a family blog after all), enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the banks of the Spree river. Then we caught a boat tour, and admired the Reichstag with its new glass cupola, the new parliamentary buildings, many monumental museums, the Berlin Dom, the bizarre skeleton of the DDR governmental building (which is being pulled down) and lots and lots of happy Berlin people sunbathing on the banks of the river.

Boat trip on the Spree – courtesy of Lia (more of her later)

Then I achieved another first, and only out of journalistic curiousity, mind. Back at the hotel, we stripped (none of that now), put on our chunky orange matching dressing-gowns and proceeded to the day-spa where your correspondent bravely plunked herself down on the hot benches of her first-ever co-ed sauna. Correction, first sauna ever. I was so busy trying not to faint I forgot that I was nekkid that my mascara might be running and that any moment someone might come in and notice that I was looking like a sweaty raccoon. We showered, had some kind of watery Dampfbad, showered again, lay on chaise longues in our orange gowns and viewed the scene over the Spree through the one-way glass. It was SO decadent and SO Berlin.

Later, we walked, saw sights, got caught in a thunderstorm, saw more sights, window-shopped and went out for dinner at a Spanish restaurant under the railway bridge at the Haekeschemarkt.

The next day, we moved from our hotel to our friend Martin’s apartment in Charlottenburg. When I grow up, I want to live in Charlottenburg. It’s a fabulous district, with leafy avenues, a famous schloss, museums, lots of children and playgrounds. People play boules there. Martin took us for breakfast in the Tiergarten (yummy food and celebrity-spotting) and then on a spontaneous tour of Potsdamerplatz and the Holocaust monument and museum. This was the humbling part of my stay in Berlin. The monument moved me with its chilly blocks of concrete set at various heights. It felt a little like a cemetery. I wanted to be still and listen for distant voices.

Holocaust monument (courtesy of Lia)

Then I achieved another first and a wonderful one. I met my blogging friend Lia face-to-face for the first time. We encountered each other in November last year during NaBloPoMo and since then have emailed and talked on the phone a little. We met in a cafe in Charlottenburg and drank tea and talked until it closed, repaired to another cafe and talked some more. It was a completely delightful experience meeting lovely Lia in person. Here is a photo of us both smiling so hard our eyes have disappeared:

Charlotte and Lia in Charlottenburg with tea (picture also courtesy of Lia)

After bidding farewell to Lia with a pang, I went to meet my lovely husband and the ruinously party-happy Martin in the lively Kreuzberg district, which was holding its annual Karneval der Kulturen. This weekend-long street party celebrates the immigrant communities of Berlin, of which there are about 150. Each community has stands of food and crafts, there are street buskers, shows in churches, much drinking in beer-tents (Berlin may be deeply cool, but it is still Germany) and the highlight: a parade of trucks blasting music specific to that community. You choose the truck whose music you like and dance behind it. Readers, I danced on the streets of Berlin for four hours, fuelled by cocktails and the most relaxed, non-threatening party atmosphere I have ever known. I moshed in the mosh-pit, shuffled happily behind the Jamaican truck and raved to techno. I rediscovered my inner party animal. It was fabulous. Later, with Martin and our New Best Friends Tina and Gunther (whom we met in the beer tent), we went bar-hopping till dawn. Berlin is SO dangerous. It can turn a staid mother-of-three from the Burg into all-night party binger. Liberation felt very very good.

Party central (picture courtesy of Moritzwade)

The next morning, we felt very very bad. Martin, the best tour guide two provincial Burgers could ever hope for, ignored his own hangover to drive us to Potsdam. There we strolled through parks and admired a variety of beautiful castles, lakes and villas before having one last langorous (non-alcoholic) Berlin drink and getting on the train to come home.

Berlin was magic – the perfect antidote to life in the Burg.