It’s taken a while to put thumbs to touchscreen but nevertheless… we’re back from Berlin!
What a city break that was. We had an ample six days in this extraordinary city and were able to achieve an awful lot in that time. Although one of those days was spent competing in their Half Marathon, I’d highly recommend at least 4 days to explore this remarkable city. It is rife with some of the World’s most dominant 20th Century history. From the Second World War and its repercussions of the extraordinary division of Berlin, through to the other end of the spectrum with the huge success of the Bauhaus Movement.
I suppose the most pragmatic way to share my discoveries with you is to selectively go through each days events. I will endeavour to keep it relevant to my observations of Berlin design, however I can’t guarantee a handful of memories and sociable snaps may slip through the net… So let’s start!
03.04.16- Sonntag Abend:
We were all on a massive high, me especially it seemed! We had all achieved what we set out to do and that was to run the Berlin Half Marathon. All that was left was to embrace and enjoy this epic city at a much slower pace than what we had just completed! The holiday had truly begun; and we craved an obscene amount of food and a generous helping of alcohol to accompany it- well I certainly did anyway!
After a brief exploration the day before, the boys stumbled across a number of bustling burger joints, just around the corner of where we were staying- ideal post run dining. Rosen Burger on Brunnenstraße delivered on every level. A simple, self service system, which seemed to be particularly common in Berlin. It took away the pressures of formally ordering correctly in German too. Bonus.
Bellies full of carbs, saturated fats and beer, we all decided it would be nice to settle down in the park close by. Another alcoholic beverage in hand, we proceeded to reflect on the events of the day, whilst observing the groups of young, intrepidly cool Berliners, all appearing to don either their own musical instrument, or insist on displaying levels of P.D.A only Europeans know how. Regardless of this, it was a moment of sheer bliss.
Content but in danger of being in a state of comatose, we went in search of some cool bars to see us through the night. We had no difficulty finding them, the streets around Rosenthaler Platz are riddled with late night bars, restaurants and cafes. We came across The Collective, where we stayed for a good few Caipirinhas enjoying the pleasant, still evening. This vegan friendly bar/ cafe had an interesting concept behind its breakfast buffet, with a “you decide how much you pay policy”-something I can’t imagine any establishment in the U.K, let alone London, could possibly get away with. A night cap turned into several at the final destination, an intriguing, relaxed venue, with a segregated indoor smoking area; accommodating the popular past-time of every Berliner, it seemed. Unfortunately the name of this establishment has escaped me… I do apologise.
Not an early rise to say the least, however nothing too taxing was planned during the day. Something like a late brunch followed by a museum was all our legs could manage! Our main motivation was the evening gig we had booked down in the suburb of Kreuzberg, south of where we were based. At The Drive In are an American, post hard- core band who formed in 1993, and who the boys of the group idolised growing up (Wikipedia was used in this case, yes.) Needless to say, emotions were excitable at the thought of being altogether at their reunion tour in Berlin.
Brunch took place at a small cafe just a few doors down at Zur Rose; an eclectic mish-mash of 20th Century style, with definitive nods towards the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movement. The slightly earlier risers of the group managed a 5 euro all you can eat continental buffet across the road at Katz und Maus; a shrewd, Scandi style in line with the more expected interior design of the city. The food at Zur Rose was delicious, although there was one thing I did notice on this trip. Scrambled eggs don’t really exist here as we know them. They are more representative of an over- done omelette broken up to resemble a “scrambled” look. One might say an imposter, but it was still delicious nonetheless. Also the tea bags. The tea bags are of gigantic proportions. I believe, hand portioned in a pouch with loose tea leaves, with the other half able to fold over the cup, something I have never come across before. Perhaps this proves my naivety in the tea world- it did excite me though.
After a very heavy- hearted afternoon of German history, we ventured over to the area of Kreuzberg to find a spot to eat before the gig. This is a vibrant, popular part of town, heavily influenced by Turkish descendants. Although thriving on its diverse culture, it is one of the poorest areas in Berlin. This is noticeably apparent in comparison to where we were staying in the Mitte. In terms of food however, we had the pick of the bunch! We quickly decided on Santa Maria, a Mexican diner. It was everything we wanted and more. Great, quick service and mouth watering, authentic food- the chef in the corner was wearing a Sombrero! The raw, pared back interior let the Mexican graffiti speak for itself on the furniture, bar and walls. An incredible find and highly recommended by us all!
Very satisfied, we crossed the road to a busy unnamed bar (it had an absurdly cool logo on the fascia!) This was moody and dimly lit, which appeared to attract the undeniably cooler than cool Berliners- not quite us but I was appreciative of the dilapidated design style. It was only a quick drink here, before we had to jump back on the U-Bahn to get to the venue.
After the gig (which can only be described as a fire hazard waiting to happen, but a lot of fun) we wandered the streets of Friedrichshain searching for a place to end the evening. Surprisingly, we stayed out until the very early hours. During this time we experienced, alarmingly awful hospitality and a transgender DJ spinning some of the best and worst 80’s music imaginable… All in all, a fairly successful night.
Again, not a particularly early rise. No set plans were made, except for us to meet later at the Reichstag. A few of us were game for a bit of local exploration in the sunshine. We were met with quirky street art and formidable architecture, as we quietly observed a casual German work ethic, in stylish boutique businesses and design studios.
Fast approaching lunch, we were in search of a particular dumpling cafe a friend had recommended called Momos. I think from the photo, it is obvious why this was recommended so highly. Delicious, vegetarian and vegan friendly dumplings! The interior had a fresh, clean design with a nod to Scandi with timber finishes and plant pots dotted around.
Obscene amounts of dumplings later, we continued exploring and hoped to find our way to the KulturBrauerei Weihnachtsmarkt. Its distinctive architecture is one of the few well preserved industrial architecture monuments from Berlin in the late 19th Century. It began as a small brewing operation, and was built in 1878 by architect Franz Heinrich Schwechten. It has since been developed, during the late 90’s, as a unique concept for creative services, museums, bars and galleries for visitors to enjoy. It was wonderful to walk around and appreciate the harmonious relationship between the original, restored brick facades with contemporary, modern infrastructure.
One discovery I must mention is Green Living. They are an ecology driven design company, with sustainability and quality as their core ethos. They seem to offer everything from furniture design through to a complete design package. They’re definitely worth a look!
We leisurely headed towards the Alltag in der DDR, a permanent exhibition which visually unveiled the cultural changes and political undercurrents West Germany were faced with, during the difficult period post war.
After a quick pause at another independent cafe, we proceeded to meet up with the rest of the gang. We had planned to reunite at the infamous Reichstag, however, we were unprepared in regards to the popularity which came with this landmark. We were forced to queue and book a tour for the next evening. A little annoying, but the best option all round.
Dinner this evening was at the recommendation of our hilarious host Werner. A stones throw away from our apartment, The Sauerkraut. It offers traditional German cuisine in all its glory. Certainly the biggest schnitzel I’ve ever tried to consume; and a sausage dish I think even a dog would struggle to finish! It was a cosy, atmospheric setting to enjoy an authentic plate of food, with a few quirky elements of German humour thrown in.
Today we split, as there was a divide in visiting the Stazie Tour or the Bauhaus Gallery- both quite far away from where we were. After a lot of heavy history under our belt already, and knowing we had arranged to meet at the Jewish Memorial Centre before our trip up the Reichstag, I (predictably) opted for the Bauhaus. In my eyes, the day was perfectly balanced.
If you have been to Berlin and not visited the Bauhaus Museum, I would definitely make the effort to go. Even if you aren’t a usual fan of art and iconic furniture, the history behind the evolution and popularity of the Bauhaus Movement is fascinating. It’s well worth hiring the headsets too. We weren’t allowed to take photos unfortunately, but I did manage a sneaky snap shot of the floor- I rather liked it.
After a solid hour and a half walking around and browsing in the shop, we left and headed towards central Berlin, through the Tier Garten, in search of somewhere to eat. We soon stumbled across Vapiano. From the outside, it looked like a very average, contrived restaurant, but as soon as we stepped inside we were pleasantly surprised. Refreshing and bold complete with an undeniable sense of pride from staff, it was honestly a joy to dine at. A strong, self service system was set right from the start. We were given a “top up” card at the door and lead to a table, with menus. There was a long, working show kitchen, which had clear signs above to identify each station. You order, swipe your card and watch your food being prepared right in front of your eyes. It felt as though I was having my very own cookery lesson. The chef who made my pasta went through each ingredient and asked my preference of pasta. It was great to feel so involved with the process. Genius idea. Pizza was slightly different. You were handed a buzzer to take back to the table- letting you know when your pizza was ready to collect. To pay, we simply handed over our card at the till, and paid. I loved everything about it. The food was absolutely delicious and unbelievably priced.
We walked around the edge of the Tier Garten to meet the others at the Jewish Memorial, translated from German as: “The memorial of the murdered Jews of Europe.” A blunt and brutal reality met us inside. I acknowledged every extract. I wanted to honour and mourn for everyone who fell victim of this demonic evil. The agonising fact is that it’s an impossible act.
To conclude the day, and the final activity of the trip, we finally reached The Reichstag. It was a perfect ending. We all happily, and leisurely, took our time with an easy to follow audioguide, which spanned a 230-metre-long ascent and descent of the new dome. At the top, we were treated to a breath-taking view as the sun took a bow on the city below us.
I admit now, this blog is reaching its end two months after our return back home… I struggle to remember exactly what happened after the Reichstag! I imagine we went to another very good restaurant, to eat some very good food and followed that with a few drinks at another very cool bar. What I will say is this. We will definitely be returning to Berlin.