Mike from Tres Cabezas
"You just brewed the best coffee I have had in months! And this place... It is so beautiful. Thanks for fostering it!"
How did he react?
"Ha, you're welcome! And thanks! I'm glad you like it."
How did I feel?
Berlin is not one city. It is a collection of neighborhoods: "Kieze". No Berliner leaves their Kiez voluntarily. Living in Germany's biggest city we are small towners in our own way, avoiding contact with anything we can't see from out of our apartment.
But guess what: Yesterday I took a chance. Broke the code, passed borders, went for the adventure. Super hero me drove three miles to Friedrichshain! Uh-huh, yes. That's right.
And what did I find?
Greatness! Believe it or not, I liked it there. A lot. Not because of those cute cable cars or the highest Spätie (liquor store) density I have ever come across. Sure, they are remarkable but you have to understand: A culture shock is a prickly affair which you must not trifle with. If you find yourself in a foreign surrounding which confuses and overwhelms you with all its new impressions the easiest way to gain stability is looking for things you know. Familiar stimuli. Safe inner places. You know the score. So what did I do? Being the Berliner I am I went for my one holy tradition: Thirty minutes at a café. Because Berlin is the world's gastronomy capital. Bars, restaurants and cafés form the city's surface like pores on a skin- in every Kiez. They are Berlin's golden thread: Put me in a coffee shop and I will feel at home.
Once seated, my relieved exhalation left the window fogged so the street sign saying Boxhagener Straße became invisible for a minute. I imagined it said Boddinstraße and my heart rate lowered again. Everything fell into place. I was fine and ready to take in my surrounding. Which seemed- insanely beautiful! Sweet lighting, antique stucco, a fine smell of roasted coffee... At this point the Neukölln me swallowed and I whispered, "No competition. This is a different part of town. It's fine if they're cooler. You can't compare Japan and China, so why would you contrast Friedrichshain and Neukölln?! Exactly. Two different cultures. Let your pride go and appreciate this faraway wonderland while you are here." I closed my eyes and opened them again. Gave myself a push and walked up right into the sweetest smile I had seen all day: Mike, the barista, was waiting to take my order. I went for a cappuccino, then to the bathroom. Candle light awaited me. I sighed.
Back in the room a painting steamed at my seat. It was a leaf in a cup. I smelled it. Coffee!
The first sip transformed a lovely coffee shop into paradise. Rich, full-flavored, intense yet somehow mild...- I turned around and stared at Mike. This man was a genius. Five minutes later he came to me and offered me a piece of cake, for free. I could not believe my eyes: Although Berlin is gastronomy queen she is a service wasteland. It is only here that you get shouted at for not being sure about what you want to order the second you enter a bar. Or wanting something exotic like a coke at a restaurant that only serves Club Mate. Berlin is not friendly. Everyone knows that. Except for Mike, apparently- sitting in front of a cappuccino miracle and a gratis cake I was sure about what I had known all along: Friedrichshain was a very, very foreign country. Maybe it belonged to Berlin, but not the Berlin I knew. The only thing my Berlin and this Berlin had in common was the gastronomical overload.
When I went to Mike and complimented him he seemed stoked.
I learned that he's from New Zealand. "Really?", I asked, "Your German is accent free!" He looked astonished, "No way! I have never heard that. Ha, that's the second compliment!" We laughed.
Before I made my way back to the streets of Friedrichshain I explored the Tres Cabezas further (that's the name of the Café) and found out why the coffee was so insanely tasty: They have their own roasting house whose beans they sell, too.
Finally I paid, said goodbye to Mike and closed the door to my first sanctuary in my new remote vacation spot, that is Friedrichshain. Though gathering the strength to make it past all these neighborhood borders between my place and the Tres Cabezas will take a while I can't wait to go back there! See you on my next super hero day, Mike!