Some photos from a trip to snowy Berlin a couple of years ago. Again. I'll add some notes of the trip when I find them.
It had been a longstanding ambition to visit the unified Germany's new capital and it is with some regret that I had not had the opportunity to visit prior to the fall of the Wall (Die Mauer). At the time of my visit, Berlin was covered with a thick blanket of snow. The cliche of Teutonic efficiency once again proved to be accurate as transport did not grind to a halt as it does in the UK. Despite the weather, I managed to pack a lot into a 3 day stay, taking in the usual landmarks and discovering some hidden gems. As with most of my sojourns, beer is always a factor; potophobia I do not have. Although Berlin has in recent years encountered financial problems, it still presents as a vibrant and exciting city. During my visit I wanted to see if there was a divide between the East and West (Ossies und Wessies) as there appears to be in the newly united country as a whole. The exodus of former DDR workers and students to the more prosperous West is well-documented, as is the economic cost. Berlin, however, afforded an opportunity to see the two faces in close proximity.
As any schoolboy know, JFK was funnier than George W. Bush when speaking in a language he was unfamiliar with. His famous speech at the western side of the wall, "Ich bin ein Berliner" literally translates as "I am a doughnut"! However, there is a long debate on Wikipedia as to whether this is the case. I have to say from the outset that I enjoyed Berlin immensely. Even though I was travlling on my own, there was never a sense of isolation or of being alone in a crowd.
Berlin does not feel like a major capital city in the same way as Paris, for instance. It is still quite reasonably priced and hopefully will not end up like the others. It has suffered financially in recent years but the city does feel vibrant nonetheless. Sightseeing is thirsty work so it is essential that every tourist tracks down some suitable hostelries to regain strength etc. I have listed the places I managed to visit together with some tips supplied by others. I was ably assisted by a couple of good websites but it is sometimes refreshing to stumble upon places by mistake rather than design. As I was hampered by the weather, (did I mention the snow?!) the latter came into its own. Berlin hosts a number of its own breweries but most pubs had a wide range of beer types.
The famous gate is an essential part of any tourist trip to the city. The landmark is often thronged with tourists so it was refreshing to be able to visit when the weather put off the hordes. As can be seen from the night photos, I was almost alone.
The Gate is the only original one left. and has a checkered and interesting history. It was designed by Carl Gotthard von Langhans who added the distinctive Quadriga (Victory driving a 4 horse chariot) to the top. It was plundered by Napoleonic forces in 1806 but later returned to its rightful place. It has been the focal point of many important rallies and events ranging from Hitler and Kennedy to David Hasselhoff!
The Brandenburg Gate looks spectacular at night and it is recommended to visit both during the day and after dark to get a feel of the contrast.
The landmark was subject to war damage and during the Cold War was left to decay in No Man’s Land. At the time of my visit there was a large mural depicting the scene after Allied bombs had found their mark. It was quite interesting as from a certain angle one could see the new and old merging.
The Gate is at the end of Berlin's most important thoroughfare, Unter den Linden. Around this area are lots of good restaurants and bars. Again much of this area was in need of repair and rebuilding after the final onslaughts on the capture of the city. It is commendable that it has been structured in traditional way so that it is difficult to imagine that the architecture is not original.
Another famous setting though not always for palatable reasons. The stadium was constructed for the 1936 Olympics and it still exudes a sense of history today. Although changes were made to the stadium for the hosting of the Football World Cup Final in 2006, it remains largely unaltered. The Olympic flame remains the centrepiece of the arena. The tradition of carrying the Olympic torch from Greece to the host venue began at these Games. Jesse Owens magnificently spoilt the Nazi Aryan supremacy dream with 4 gold medals. At first, I thought the Dirty Tricks Brigade had missed one victory off the Scroll of Honour but upon close inspection the relay win refers to the USA only.
When I turned up at the stadium, there was only a handful of hardy souls taking he guided tour, which involves a visit to the changing rooms and a view of the pitch. The ground is home to the Bundesliga team Hertha Berlin, perennial underachievers. Although it is very old compared to some of the new stadia built for the FIFA World Cup, it still looks impressive. It holds around 80,000 spectators. This should make for a great atmosphere but I'm not sure how this works when the ground is half empty, particularly as the fans are separated from the pitch by the running track.
The tour allows you to walk along the whole of the ground at upper tier level and you can visit the interior including the changing rooms and pitch side entrance.
As with many things, the price of entry for matches is much cheaper than the Premier League in England. Contrast the fact that you could watch Hertha v Bayern Munich for the same cost as Walsall v Darlington in our 3rd Division. There are still standing areas in the ground including the popular Ostkurve. I bought a Hertha shirt from the previous season bearing the name of Brazillian striker and hair colour devotee Marcelhino.
The wall's dismal past is well-documented also. Not much of the original wall is in situ, having been either demolished or appropriated as souvenirs. One can also buy chunks of varying sizes from entrepreneurs, but let's face it, nobody can be sure it's not part of the central reservation of an Autobahn in Duisburg. (I wrote this years before the recent Mafia-connected killings in this city so this gives the phrase a more chilling aspect.) Lack of concrete evidence!
There is a pseudo-wall built near Checkpoint Charlie and whitewashed. Many of the foreigners I spoke with were of the misapprehension that this was part of the real wall. However, I understand it may be knocked down soon along with the memorial crosses to the victims of the wall as the land is owned by a financial company. Ah! the victory of capitalism continues apace.
Near to this spot is a long line of traders peddling anything from East German Army trench coats and slabs of 'wall' to Russian dolls and 'Find the Lady' games.
The photos probably do not convey the full horror of the divisive barrier but certainly show the grim nature of the structure. Not far from some of the last surviving remnants of wall is the spot where Hitler committed suicide in his bunker but this is neither signposted or easily reached. I thought I could make out the rough area from memories of TV documentaries and photos but wasn't sure. In any case, this was not high on my tour itinerary.
The Reichstag is another place rich in history. Situated adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate it is the main seat of government in the country. Of architectural note is the spiral glass dome designed by British architect Norman Foster, around which one can walk.
After taking a number of photos, I treated myself to an Italian meal at a restaurant on the Unter den Linden.
This is the TV Tower in the Eastern part of the City. It dominates the Berlin skyline. It was not completely visible when I was there due to the constant snowfall.
The Berlin Generator is situated outside the city centre in the eastern part. It is well served by trains and trams (Strassebahn) and this proved to be a godsend given the blizzard conditions I encountered on my trip. Most people who travel to this part of Europe will wax lyrically about how the trains run on time and this has always been the case in my numerous visits to Germany.
The Generator is quite modern and large. In snowy February there was, not unexpectedly, plenty of room. The situation may well be different in summer months but it does appear large enough to cater for such periods. There was a mix of ages in the hostel and there was a noticeable absence of rowdy teenagers. Whether this is always the case is open to question. Some groups appeared to be language students and some skiers. There is a bar in the hostel with reasonably priced beer and a pool table. In the absence of a karaoke night, I consoled myself with the easy task of beating everyone at pool. I think they thought I was a teacher due to my age. The hostel was a good base as it allowed for a late night drink after returning from elsewhere.
I initially booked in for one night as I was unsure at what to expect with sharing with up to 5 others in a dorm. This allowed for changing to a hotel should the need arise. However, I extended the stay a further 2 nights once I found it OK. I shared with 4 guys of Far Eastern appearance. They were always asleep when I crawled home and still in bed when I left each morning. Therefore, no problems encountered but it always remains a risk. I recommend taking an Mp3 player just in case there are loud snores in the dorm! Each room has individual lockers for valuables but I would always tend to take them with you during the day. More secure boxes are available for a few Euros. I have not been able to take any photos of the rooms (in the circumstances it looks a bit odd if people are sleeping and some English weirdo is taking snaps) but they are on the Generator web site. In the dorms they have bunks which is not to everybody's taste but fortunately I had mine to myself.
I did not make much use of the other facilities at the hostel, preferring to go into the city for the day. There is internet access and large TV screens which at the time were showing Champions League games. They had Arsenal's game on rather than Liverpool's so this perhaps gives an indication of the origins of the guests. On one night, I wore my newly purchased Hertha Berlin football shirt and this seemed to give some the impression that I was German. This provided some comic potential as a couple of young lads tried to speak German to me. I have to say that my German is very basic and I take it as a compliment that my accent has been taken as Dutch by Germans. However I can bullshit as well as anyone (working as a lawyer possibly helped). The guys then said that my English was very good! I also proceeded to give the boys a lesson in pool playing. Young people! Pah!
I am indebted to the excellent web site of Ron Pattinson for some of the suggestions for places to drink in Berlin. In order to do an in depth study, it would take more than the few days afforded to me. I did go in a couple of other pubs during the trip but they were not of any note and I cannot recall much about them and no notes were made.
Georgbrau Spreeufer 4, 10178 Berlin
This was an extremely enjoyable experience. It is situated in the Nikolaiviertel (a quarter near the Nikolai church and referred to as the cradle of Berlin) on the River Spree and no doubt it would be good to sit outside. Not in February! Downstairs I was able to get a good look at the brewing process with huge copper vats in a room downstairs adjacent to the toilets. The Berliner Gasthausbrauerien advertises 5 other local outlets all of which also brew on the premises. I was impressed with the beer selection, opting for the Georgpils and a Dunkel (dark) lager. I managed to talk with the main barman whilst there and he kindly gave me a brief tour of the brewing area together with a taste of the fresh nectar.
Helmut Newton Berlin
The eponymous hero of this bar, for the unitiated, is a world-renowned photographer of the female form. In tribute, some of his works adorn the walls of the bar. I don't know much about art but I know what I like! This bar is in an upmarket part of the city. Although I was not exactly correctly attired for the occasion, I persuaded myself that I should visit for a short time for academic purposes (grin). My long black cashmere coat helped disguise my lack of class to some degree as I was dressed for the weather rather than to impress. One look at the drinks menu is enough to warm the coldest visitor (it brings out a sweat).
The bar had a lengthy list of champagne with some at over £300 a bottle. I settled for a glass of non-descript Pils, which was by far the most expensive drink of the trip. I made the most of this by people watching and spotted a fascinating assignation between a middle-aged businessman and much younger girl. Look, I know I'm envious and she could have been his daughter but surely he shouldn't have had his hand there! Anyway, I managed to look totally touristy by taking a picture with the remote control. Viewers of a delicate nature should avoid thine eyes now (everyone else can order larger pics at reasonable rates). Not sure if Nannynet filters like it.
I'm always unsure as to whether or not to tip in Germany as there appear to be differences of opinion as to the correct etiquette. Some places include a service charge but they were rare. I don't tend to tip in England probably due to the crap service attitude (and because I'm tight) so I should have made do with my usual tip: Don't eat yellow snow! Given the prevailing wintry conditions, this was worth its weight in ice.
Zum Nußbaum Am Nussbaum 3, 10178 Berlin
This is also situated in the Nikolaiviertel and is literally a stone's throw from the church and near a souvenir shop with giant bears outside. Well, it's how the city gets its name.
Before mentioning the beer, it is worthy of note that the gents toilets not only had a chalkboard for budding graffiti artists (one had scrawled " Bush Go Home" as he was visiting that week, (strange how graffiti in Germany tends to be in English) but it also had a brilliant device in the urinal. This consisted of a football suspended by plastic that could be guided into a goal to encourage accuracy. This could be very popular during the World Cup and with those of us that like to visit toilets where the floor doesn't resemble the Nile.
The inside is quite cosy and the service excellent. it was relatively busy when I attended as it was lunchtime and there was an even mix of day trippers and local workers. As with many of the places I went to, I was the sole English voice to be heard, which is always a joy. My basic German managed to order a satisfying meal of beef and dumplings with sauerkraut. The beer was standard Pils but nothing spectacular. The snug atmosphere more than made up for this, as I was cold from walking around the area in the snow. Honestly, there were times when it stopped: when I was indoors usually.
I am given to understand that this pub was completely rebuilt after the wartime bomb damage. I am impressed with the way Berlin has so accurately recreated the past, thus maintaining a sense of history rather than tearing out the heart of the place.
Alt-Berliner Weißbierstuben Rathausstrasse, 10178 Berlin
Another great pub near to Alexanderplatz and situated in the Nikolaivertel near to the Rote Rathaus. This had the appearance of an upmarket cafe rather than traditional pub. There were many photos of pre-war Berlin adorning the walls. The stools at the bar were very tall but I decided to stay on one in order to converse with the barman. There were only a couple of customers in the place at the time (mid afternoon). I had a small glass of Berliner Kindl and a wheat beer before setting out for on another arctic trek. The barman was mildly amused to see an Englishman there in this type of weather. I noted back at the hostel that some people had stayed in all day rather than brave the elements. This seems a waste to me (like staying on a cruise ship and never going ashore) but of course, they could have been visiting for longer than me.
Thuringia is one of the lander states of Germany and this cafe/restaurant serves authentic Thuringen cuisine and drink. From Bratwurst mit sauerkraut to Dumplings. I also took the opportunity to have a Koestritzer Schwarzbier (a very dark black beer). It is about 4.8% and is my favourite German beer notwithstanding that it is sometimes seen as Frauenbier by some!
Stammhaus Friedrichstrasse 158-164, Berlin 1011
This is part of a very plush Berlin hotel: The Westin Grand. The Stammhaus is a bar cum restaurant and seems to be an attempt at creating a local pub inside the hotel. there is a also a more upmarket bar, Friedrichs. The place was quite full when I visited around lunchtime. I had a Kalbsfleisch buletten to eat and opted for a small glass of Paulaner Hefeweisse before trying the sweet Berliner Weisse Rot, which has syrup added to create the distinctive red colour. It is an acquired taste. The bar's situation in the affluent Friedrichstrasse was reflected in the prices but was not overly expensive (£1.85/2.60€ for 0.3cl) The food was very rich and could not be faulted.
To be continued