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Bicycling, Bagels & Kebabs in Berlin

Tiergarten Ferris Wheel, Berlin

Tiergarten Ferris Wheel, Berlin © 2014 Sean M. Madden

Yesterday, we planned to bicycle to Shakespeare & Sons in Friedrichshainnot to browse or buy books, but to sample the delights at Fine Bagels, located within the bookshop.

Having grown up in the Northeast, twenty miles south of Boston, I’ve been a lover of good, fresh-baked bagels since I was a wee lad. One of my early memories is driving with my mother to a Jewish bakery in the nearby town where my sister’s swim team trained in the ridiculously early hours each morning. It was St. Patrick’s Day, and so, naturally, there were green bagels on offer. I thought that was a most splendiferous thing. But scarcely had I indulged in this rather Dr. Seussish affair when I threw it all up. It might have been that I’d come down with the flu, or perhaps green food coloring and bagels just don’t mix.

Regardless, and perhaps surprisingly, I still love bagels.

During my first round of European slow travels — begun right out of university, in 1989, and continuing beyond the summer spent teaching English in Spain — I eventually ran out of money just before my birthday in mid-November, and, thus, found a job (sans work visa; I didn’t have UK/EU citizenship back then) at a bagel café in central Amsterdam. As part of the deal I struck with the proprietor, a New York Jew, I was given a flat to live in which was, like the café, in the Red Light district. I could add much more, but the particulars of my living arrangement there are an entirely different story that I’ve yet to commit to publication. Note to self.

Anyway, I wanted to introduce Mufidah to the more exotic varieties (e.g., everything bagels) as well as the simple pleasures of a plain or egg bagel, toasted and topped with a schmear of cream cheese. We’ve made the most gorgeous bagels ever produced back home in Lewes, but she’s not been to a proper bagel shop before. And it was she who first learned of Fine Bagels, and suggested we bicycle into Friedrichshain on Sunday afternoon.

Mufidah, Berlin

Mufidah, Berlin © 2014 Sean M. Madden

Well, for various reasons, including the finishing up of yesterday’s post, we didn’t end up getting on our bikes until the evening. When we did, we figured we’d just tootle around the ’hood, riding up a street we’d discovered the previous day. But as always happens with me, whether on bicycle or foot, one intriguing place (like the Iraq embassy) leads to another, and before long we were well on our way into central Berlin. Never one to hold back, I suggested, despite it closing in on eight o’clock, that we ride to the Tiergarten, continue right through the middle of the park, past the Zoo, to emerge at Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag building. All of which we proceeded to do, aided by my iPhone satnav app. (One of the most brilliant smart phone tools we tap into during our slow travels. That and the camera.)

I was in seventh heaven, biking our way into central Berlin.

After riding through the Tiergarten, and passing by Brandenburger Tor, we stopped in front of the Reichstag, where I pulled out my phone and took the above picture of Mufidah as she rode up. You can see she’s likewise happy, though she’d prefer that her hair wasn’t across her face when I snapped the shot. But seeing her just as she is makes me happy.

And so the photograph made the cut.

Cranes, Berlin

Cranes, Berlin © 2014 Sean M. Madden

After leaving the Reichstag, we made our way to the formerly East Berlin side of the Brandenburger Tor, rode down Unter den Linden, towards the Spree, where I pulled off the road to take the above photograph, the roughly reverse view of the cranes pictured in “Summer in Berlin and Beyond”.

Shortly thereafter we decided to return home to Steglitz via the Tiergarten and, then, Bundesallee to Balli Döner on Rheinstraße, one of our favorite local kebab shops (for which Berlin is famous given its 250,000 to 300,000 Turks) where we were treated, post-dinner, to large glasses of Turkish tea after sharing a lovely conversation with the owner, the youngest of ten sons (three of whom died in early childhood) who’ve built a döner empire with ten highly regarded shops in Berlin, with other shops in Barcelona and Riga. Ergün Balli explained that his family’s surname is Turkish for honey, as their great-grandfather was a beekeeper or honey farmer.

We’re both huge fans of Turkish tea, and so this, coupled with watching World Cup highlights from our sidewalk table, brought another perfect summer evening to a close.

But our night wasn’t finished. Once home, we stayed up to watch the midnight (to 2 a.m.) USA v. Portugal match. So a later-than-intended awakening this Monday morning. And this despicable behavior from two non-television watchers!

Truth be told, we watched the match on Mufidah’s Mac using Hola. (Thanks, again, Luka.)


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Photo: Sean M. MaddenSean M. Madden is a writer, photographer and slow-traveling digital nomad. He’s also Co-Founder & CEO of, working with creative businesses and individuals, worldwide, to build tribes of loyal customers via strategic websites and visual storytelling.

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