Travel / 探險
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Vignette C / Berlin Cafes

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I hardly did any sightseeing during my weekend-and-change in Berlin. I saw the East Side Gallery, and the Brandenburg Gate from afar. I hardly did any partying in Berlin, either. Besides an extremely ambitious sun-riser of a night in one of those typical Berlin rave palaces, I didn’t spend my nights in a blur, partying in city famous for night-time hedonism. Moreover, I didn’t visit the tons of cheap, delicious ethnic food joints I’d been book-marking during Swedish lectures this past week; didn’t have Lebanese at Babel, Vietnamese at Monsieur Vuong,  meat and cheese at Proviant. 

What I did instead was spend hours and hours at cafes; at the kitchen table –  drinking good coffee and having good talks with people I love; people who know me.

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• • •

 Since my move to Sweden a few weeks ago for my exchange, I’ve been struggling with a petulant sort of lethargy when it comes to meeting new people. I’m constantly feeling stretched thin, trying to process unfamiliar faces and personalities on an almost daily basis. The people I meet learn I’m from the States, but I study in Taiwan; maybe they even know I worked at a Swedish farm last summer. But they don’t see that I always lie about having already headed out when I haven’t; that I get annoyed when cafe interiors are ugly, that I dig my fingers into people’s arms, claw-like, when a situation gets awkward beyond my tolerance.  I walk around Uppsala holding myself as a giant question mark, tersely bent towards all the people surrounding me, asking – “So, is this okay?” It felt so good to step off that plane, felt good to arrive in Berlin and lean into my friends, who have answered that question a long time ago.

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 When I think about it: whether in Rome, Hong Kong, or Reykjavik – after a few hours of wandering the city streets, I start to feel an acute craving for a cafe. It’s almost a physical relief when I spot one –  the glass windows; the hiss of a coffee machine signaling a promise of familiarity, of rest. Yes, I chose to subject myself to twisting alleys and strange streets. I made the choice, as I’ve made the choice to do an exchange at Uppsala. It’s not that I regret it. But what a relief it is, to see that cafe!  And what a fucking relief it was, to slum on cafe patios and kitchen counters, and just be. 

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• • •

You can be quiet with the people who know you. It’s not about what you do. It’s enough to just relish the feeling of finally sitting next to someone who has already seen you in full measure. Enough just to sit in silence on the U-Bahn, watch Berlin whizz by, out the window. Enough just to order a cappuccino for you (because that’s your order, always) and a hot chocolate for her (because she really doesn’t like coffee that much, but wants to keep you company) on the street in the sun.

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Some people go to Berlin, I suppose, to get lost – to drown, anonymously, in the city’s dark corners and concrete dens; they crave a plethora of mind-altering substances and the monotony of a single, thrumming beat  – in a place where no one knows their name – and furthermore, no one cares.

I went to Berlin to be known, and I’m going to argue that in comparison to everything else Berlin was offering me, it’s the greater high.

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Eberswalder Straße 35, 10437 Berlin

A cafe / boutique hotel located near Mauer Park. Cozy, rustic-chic decor, all rough-hewn wood tables and plush, raggedy couches. Select a treat from the array of pastries laid out at the counter to pair with your cappuccino, and sit on the patio on Sundays to watch the hipster-exodus towards Mauer Flohmarkt.

Zeit für Brot

Alte Schönhauser Straße 4, 10119 Berlin

Scandinavian simplicity, paired with a small selection of quality brews. The shop is more known for bread than coffee – stop in for a cup and pick up a dense loaf of  roggebrot (German rye bread) to take home for dinner.

The Barn Roastery 

Schönhauser Allee 8, 10119 Berlin


  1. I like specially: “the hiss of a coffee machine signaling a promise of familiarity, of rest.” besides being known, that was something you knew.
    sounds like it was just what you needed, berlin. cheers!

    • Stephanie Hsu says

      Ernesto – isn’t that one of the best sounds in the world? The signal that in a few minutes you’ll be sitting down to a cup of coffee…

  2. This post was so lovely. I’m glad you got a bit of a respite in Berlin and hope you find some peace in your new location soon.

    • Stephanie Hsu says

      Polly – thank you so much for dropping by! I actually left a message on your latest post RE: some questions I had about possibly travelling to Russia. Currently reading through all your expat adventures – such an inspiration for my own future blog posts about expat life in Sweden!

  3. Eurgh, YES. I’m totally with you on the whole people-who-really-know-me thing. I honestly don’t have that many friends in Taipei, a handful at best, and some days it feels like all I have is kind of forced, polite conversation, with people I can’t really be myself around. I’m slowly trying to change that, though…slowly. Also, I can’t believe St. Oberholz isn’t on the list of Berlin cafes here. My fave in the city. And the brunch at Cafe Bastard. You have to go next time you’re in Berlin.

    • Stephanie Hsu says

      Tom, thanks for the sweet FB message – seriously lifted my spirits to get an encouragement like that! And I want to blog about my difficulty, too – one thing I admire about your blog is how honest it is! Even though I’m supposedly moving into “personal” blogging – it’s still hard to resist the temptation to gloss everything over & make it sound pretty and nice, when everything really is a total shitshow! It becomes totally worth it, writing down all the hard stuff (like you have) – because when the good times and victories come around (as they have for you, congrats on your relationship, he sounds wonderful!), you can look back and just laugh!

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