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Berlin

In Der ‘Hood

My street in Berlin, Fehrbelliner Straße, runs for the best part of a kilometer between Anklamer Straße at the top and Schönhauser Allee at the bottom. It is pronounced Fairbulleener Straw-suh, as if it was the street of fair Berliners, but alas this is not an accurate literal translation. There are some fine buildings, their windows adorned with columns and the various plaster accoutrements of old Europe — curlicues, bearded or wreathed heads, flowers — but there are more plain facades, although often in cheery sherbert shades. A few of the dun-colored, pebble dash boxes that scream East Berlin also remain, as does graffiti. I love the doors the most, especially the enormous double ones that open onto interior courtyards and close with a solid thunk.

Every weekday I walk the length of it twice, from home on one end to work on the other and back again. I also eat, drink, and shop on it. It is a far cry from the Cotswolds, but Fehrbelliner Straße is a village in its own way.

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At the top end, half a block from our apartment and the on part of the street we frequent least, there is always an armed policeman standing guard outside one of the buildings. When we first moved in I approached him and asked in my most polite inquisitive voice if this was a police station.

“No,” the policeman answered and looked away, making it clear that no explanation for his presence would be offered.

Later at work a German colleague who lives nearby explained to me that the building was a Jewish school. I was taken aback that a school would have an armed police presence, but he explained that this was standard practice for Jewish schools and synagogues. I asked if there were specific threats, to which he replied, “No, but given our history it would just be really bad if something happened.”

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As far away from our flat as the Jewish school but in the opposite direction is Remshardt. It is the atelier of a wedding dressmaker, a man who sometimes sits at his desk drawing with his African Grey parrot perched on his shoulder. Each week he changes the dress featured in the window, lately favoring flowing Grecian things that remind me of Grace Kelly’s poolside cover-up in High Society. My favorite, though, was a bulbous heap of ivory taffeta adorned with an outsize beetle brooch.

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On the corner, at the busy intersection with Veteranstraße, is Weinerei Forum, known around my house simply as Corner Wine Bar. (Due to husband’s limited memory, most things around our house have a different, generic sounding shorthand, like “Frenchie” for Café Fleury.) I’ve written about Corner Wine Bar before here; suffice to say it continues to be an extension of our living room, as does the pizzeria, La Foccaceria, across the street.

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A little further down is ZweiTrad, a trio of bicycling boutiques that dominate the block. Berlin is a bicycle-crazy city, and this place is often as busy as a bustling bistro on a Saturday. This is where I bought my beloved Pashley from the elegant owner. He wears wire-rimmed specs and always has a scarf knotted around his throat, a Frenchman trapped in a German’s body. There is some small irony in my acquisition of the Pashley in Berlin given it was made in Stratford-upon-Avon, about forty miles north of our Cotswold town. But the Germans favor Dutch bikes with annoying pedal brakes, and so I reckon I had no choice but to go for the British-built beauty.

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Just beyond the cycle shop is Schwarze Pumpe (the black pump). It is one of the first places we ate dinner in our neighborhood and we continue to be regular guests for the käsespätzle and lack of pretension.

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This is our grocery store, Kaiser’s. I imagine I will leave Berlin without ever understanding why their logo looks like a genie’s lantern.

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Beyond the playground, two of the best coffee shops in Berlin have clustered together. Kristiania Espressobar, owned by a Norwegian, and Antipodes, owned by a couple from Wellington. The inside of Kristiania looks a little like a mid-century doctor’s waiting room, but on balance I favor Antipodes because of the passion fruit yo yos, an Oreo for grown-ups.

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Almost opposite the coffee cluster is the site of a former Jewish school. I’ve written about it before too, a reminder of a very sad chapter in Germany’s history. It is marked out by a subtle plexiglass plaque rather than a policeman; the only thing left to guard is the memory of the children and their teachers.

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