Diary of an Expat, Part 18
The difference a city block makes; reviews of Restaurant Sauv...
The crazy thing about Berlin, to me, is how quickly it transforms.

I have a very quiet apartment. You have to go through 5 doors to get to it, for some reason, and a bit of a path-cum-courtyard where people store bikes and the like. With my windows closed (all windows in Berlin are double paned and seal tightly) you can't hear a thing outside.

(Mostly. The construction that had been at the rear of my apartment when I first moved in has now, irritatingly, moved to the fore, where it is closer to my bedroom, and that sound is something that often wakes me up in the morning. But on a weekend, it's much less noticeable)

Anyway, so you can expect the world to be quiet, and indeed the city remains quiet right until I step through that final door and out, onto a major street. At 11:30 at night it was a whirlwind of lights and bustle and sound, and it's something you would not have expected from the perspective of my living room, or the balcony,

Today I visited Berlin's "museum island," which is not an island that has itself been turned into a museum but rather an island containing five separate museums. I walked down from Hackeschermarkt, which is a vibrant, up-and-coming shopping district in the downtown. You stroll past the garish neon storefronts, cross a bridge, and suddenly you're surrounded by beautiful old buildings and quiet, peaceful gardens.

These transitions are part and parcel of the Berlin experience. San Francisco, where I lived previously, is notorious for its "microhoods" — small neighborhoods with wildly different character, separated by a few blocks. Berlin is like this, kicked to the next level; the architecture itself can be radically transformed from one street to the next. Some of this is just the difference between east and west, or old and new, of course, but you find that it can definitely have a very distinct feeling.

I was down on the Museum Island to check out the Pergamon, which normally hosts a great number of classical antiquities (including the Ishtar Gate!); I was there to see an exhibit called the "Pergamon Panorama." It is a massive, massive image (25 by 103 metres) wrapped in a circle, depicting life in Pergamon circa 129AD.

To accomplish this, you mount a series of steps in what are unabashedly just repurposed shipping containers, and gain the top of a viewing stand maybe 20 metres above the ground. It's actually quite impressive, visually: the cloth tapestries that hang down cover your entire vision, including your peripheral, and the sense of scale is amazing.

Does it actually make you feel like you're in Pergamon? Well, no. Nobody moves, for one; that's a bit distracting. But as exhibits go, it's quite stunning. The sound design is lovely, and the music used is atmospheric and never distracts from the scene. The lights fade from day to night over the city, so you can see about all of what there is to see from the exhibit in 30 minutes or so, I imagine; it's certainly possible to stay longer, because the level of detail is truly astounding. It doesn't start to break down until you're right up against the painting and, remember, you're ordinarily fifteen metres away from it in the centre of the circle.

On the downside, it is expensive (€13) and it doesn't get you access to the Pergamon proper. But if you're in the area, it's not a bad exhibit all told!

Restaurant Sauvage is a self-described "paleolithic" restaurant occupying a former brothel in Kreuzkölln, by Reuterplatz. It offers "caveman cooking," organic, unprocessed food — no starches or grains, no sugar, no dairy products. The food is all made with ingredients that would've been accessible before widespread access to domestication.

Horticultural fare doesn't mean a narrow palette; they offer a variety of meats, fish, vegetables and herbs. The antipasti platter comes with a pretty incredible arugula pesto and a spectacularly made pico de gallo. These you eat on grainless crackers. I don't know what they're made with, exactly, but they're tasty enough, so it all comes out in the wash.

I ordered a bit of steak, and my friend ordered the tuna fish; we exchanged a bit, and on balance I think he probably made the right choice. Everything at Sauvage is good, though; the problem is that it's nowhere near good enough to justify the price (budget €40 per person, which borders on the criminal in Berlin, in lo-fi Kreuzberg). It's good to try once, for the atmosphere and the unconventional approach to food — in general it's not so good out here. But my friend and I both agree we wouldn't make a habit of it.

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