Salem

Way before we drove into Salem, part of the hyphenated metropolis of Winston-Salem, my mind had travelled before my body. It had daydreamed about The Salem of the witch trials. The prospect of chancing upon stories of witchcraft, swirled in my thoughts, of the detail being in the devil just as in the case of the Pendle Hill witches of Lancaster. Could the famed Lancastrian occultists have given their Salem counterparts a run for their money, who knows (it’s such tosh anyway).

In Salem the absence of the bad girls were notable. Where were they? Adi shrugged, saying: “I was hardly interested in the history of any place before you came into life, was I?” Yeah Watson, we should have headed to New England.You might be an an ace at the memory game, but my mind is a sieve, dear reader. On an important aside, there are 26 Salems in the US.

Salem of North Carolina did not have the witches of its Massachusetts namesake, but it had the Moravians. Good old people of the faith with a solid moral compass, whose single men and women lived in the Single Brothers House and the Single Sisters House, respectively. The staid nature of their lives must have been challenged by the wilderness of North Carolina in which they found themselves when they arrived here in 1766, all the way from Pennsylvania. I think of them as adventurers who built a town from nothing, because there was no Winston then. It was just Salem.

After we had left behind the tall official buildings in Winston and its modern high street along with its brick town hall, it was as if we crossed an invisible wall into another time. Old clapboard houses, brick and dark timber-framed houses turned up along a leafy street, signs of tradesmen hanging from the eaves of some.

All of this linked to an event from the early 1400s. Years before Martin Luther, there was Jan Hus in Bohemia who daring to challenge the practices of the Roman Catholic Church was naturally burnt at the stake. His followers, who called themselves the Unity of Brethren, left the land and travelled to Saxony (Germany). Some took off to England. The rest of the Moravians, as they were called in England, moved to the New World.

Now the pity is that we had to vamoose. Our end game was a secluded cabin up in the Great Smoky Mountains. Tennessee was a four-hour drive from Winston-Salem, including stops. More if you slept in a McDonald’s car park after the torpor induced by a locally brewed ale from Salem (we are hard-pressed to pass up on liquid gold). As a result, we did not have time to wander into the living history museum of Old Salem, where they have tradesmen going about their various trades, for the sake of the curious visitor. Bakers, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, gunsmiths, carpenters operate within the walls of Old Salem, in a bid to forget the modern world.

What we had instead was a gander at the charming architecture around us, thinking that this was the kind of town we should have seen bathed in the warm glow of gas lamps. Met a woman sauntering down the road in her old Germanic dress of embroidered bodice and waistcoat, long skirt and pinafore, her hair masked in a white cap. Somewhere from afar the clip-clop clip-clop sounds of a horse carriage reaching our ears in the tranquility of the night.

However, it was not too bad, what we ended up with. Actually no, it was nothing less than an esoteric triumph. Pumpkin muffins (oh yes, I have had my headstart on autumn) slathered (a touch too) greedily with honey butter, and a scrummy pecan pie, following Adi’s un-Moravian meal of beef burger and mine of a traditional chicken pie smothered in a thick broth. All ravished at a historic tavern where George Washington had dined during his tour of the Southern states in the spring of 1791.

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La Bohème Berlin

On a Thursday night, I was in a gastronomic fix. Tucked into the alleys of the hipster district of Kreuzberg in Berlin otherwise known for its annual May Day riots, is a massive hall called Markthalle Neun, where the movers and shakers of Berlin’s burgeoning pop-up restaurant and supper club scene come together. There I stumbled into the underworld of Berlin cuisine. Orbs of fried octopus, Koshary (Egyptian street food), Berlin Meat Balls, Peruvian Ceviche (raw fish with lime juice), Allgäuer Kässpatzen (German-style macaroni and cheese) and Korean Bao Buns vied for the attention. Local beers and ales were naturally the hotsellers. And there in that hubbub of music, people and food couched inside a 19th century market hall, the windows of which were once painted black and business brought to a standstill during World War II, I found myself  caught in a dilemma that no food lover should complain about.

In Berlin, nightlife begins only around midnight and these food markets cater to nocturnal revellers. As I left that district which is home to immigrants, progressive youth and expats such as my husband’s Canadian friend of Chinese origin – she had taken us into its beatnik heart – the feeling that I was in a freewheeling city clung to me. Then there are its beer bikes. One extremely sultry afternoon past us chugged this rolling bar, pedal-powered by groups of beer chuggers. Their reward: 10 litres of beer per hour.

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Grilled octopus
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Juicy meat
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Beer biking 

You see by now that almost everything goes in Berlin. The bohemian thought process is reflected almost everywhere. That would include its famous 520-acre public park, Tiergarten that once used to be the hunting quarters of kings till one worthy Frederick II decided to transform it into a lustgarten (pleasure garden) for the public. What would Frederick have made of the nudists who sun themselves now in a certain quarter of the park, I wonder.

My initial reaction to Berlin was dismay. The city that had been headquarter to the Nazis, staged a revolution, been bombed to oblivion, sundered into two and been reunited again — I expected it to be chock-full of history. My disillusionment was stoked by the sight of the accoutrement of urban shops, hotels, restaurants and Bikini Berlin, a ‘concept mall’ of West Berlin, on Kurfürstendamm, one of the most famous boulevards in Berlin and where my hotel was strategically located. The only redeeming feature there strangely enough was the ruined spire of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, a 19th-century church badly destroyed during the air bombing raids of 1943.

But I started changing my mind as I found my way to the historic Mitte, walking for miles and miles along the leafy trails of Tiergarten. There on the way I chanced upon disconcerting memorials such as the one to Aktion 4. It was a programme of forced euthanasia in Nazi Germany carried out on psychiatric hospital patients declared unfit to live. The methods were later to be replicated at extermination camps and mobile death vans.

Memorials make up Berlin’s landscape. There are more than 30 that mark its warped history but the most poignant of them is the plaque for Peter Fechter, an 18-year-old bricklayer, who became a symbol of the Cold War. Fechter was shot by GDR border guards in 1962 as with a co-worker he attempted to climb over the Wall to Kreuzberg in West Berlin. The co-worker got away but Fechter bled to death while guards and witnesses watched him die. Then there’s the Rosenstrasse memorial which I looked high and low for. It recalls the uprising of a group of non-Jewish women when their husbands, 2,000 Jewish citizens of Berlin, were detained in February 1943 at Rosenstrasse as part of deportations by the SS and the Gestapo. The result of the uprising was that in March 1943 the prisoners were released.

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Nudists in Tiergarten
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Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche

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Informal evening eateries
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Coffee and mamorkuchen
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Classical theaters

 

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Remnants of the Berlin Wall
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When the Wall was in place
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Checkpoint Charlie
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Chunks of the dismembered Berlin Wall
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Memorial to the Holocaust
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Memorial to the Sinti and Roman gypsies
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Memorial to the Soviet Soldier
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Rosenstrasse memorial

The commemoration that needs no hunting down is Checkpoint Charlie. The crossing between erstwhile East and West Berlin nowadays resembles the first guard house erected in 1961 with sandbags. A former colleague of mine told me that she had found soldiers patrolling the checkpoint when she had visited the city during the year that the Wall came down. How different times can be… I came upon actors dressed shabbily as allied military policemen, charging enthusiastic tourists heftily for token photographs.

In between queueing up for a visit to the Reichstag for hours and browsing free museums such as the Willy Brandt Haus on Unter den Linden named charmingly for the lime trees that line it, I fell for a few quarters in the city. The grand Parisier Platz with the neo-classical gate, Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag just around the corner, Museum Sinsel, a hub of five museums, dominated by the Berliner Dom that sits on the River Spree. My other designated happy corner was Gendarmenmarkt, named for the Gens d’Armes, an elite Prussian mounted regiment that was quartered there in the 18th century.

On a grey windy day in the middle of that hot summer, I climbed 254 steps up the Französischer Dom on Gendarmenmarkt and was rewarded by a beautiful view of the city. From above it, I could hear the rantings of a pony-tailed man who had been stomping up and down the square with a strolley for some time, screaming himself hoarse about some kind of conspiracy. Just around the corner from the square is a chocolate boutique, Fassbender und Rausch Chocolatiers, the first in Europe to spice everything with cocoa. Be it fish, meat, salad or soup, expect sweet notes of chocolate in it.

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The Reichstag
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Domsinsel

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In Tiergarten
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The French Cathedral
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The German Cathedral
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The still and the living share space in front of Berliner Dom
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Gendarmenmarkt from atop the French Cathedral
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Brandenburg Tor
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Straße des 17.Juni, the flea market with heritage
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In the sweltering heat of Berlin

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Now, I was warned about the temptation that awaits the unwary at Berlin’s famous flea markets. On a steamy Sunday, when outdoors it seemed to be the very personification of a sauna chamber, my husband and I stepped into Straße des 17 Juni Flea Market to indulge our antiquing souls. In a market that has been tagged Berlin’s oldest flea market since 1973, along with the hordes we braved sultriness to rummage through vintage metal tin signs, antiques, paintings, cutlery, crystal and vinyl to our heart’s content — the thought running through my mind that no day in Berlin can be orthodox.