I love Berlin. I love that even though I’ve been there three times in the past year, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this city with such a heart-wrenching history. I first went there in 1999 and returned again practically a year ago to the day.
In June 2010, my father announced that a transfer had come up within his company (an Engineering consultancy firm, hit badly by the recession) and he was going to take it. In Berlin. It threw up a lot of ‘how’ questions which I’m not going to go into, but within a month, he was gone. It has worked out quite well. My mother heads over a lot and they both love Berlin and the times they’ve spent together there over the past year and a half even though I know at times it’s been hard for them.
I’m so lucky to have the luxury of a wonderful apartment in Wilmersdorf to stay in whenever I feeling like hopping on the 90 minute flight to Berlin. In fact, I wonder why I haven’t been more than three times. The first time, as I mentioned was a year ago. Myself and Niall spent five days there. We overlapped with my mother for two days at the beginning and my brother for a day at the end. It was great. We did the touristy things: Brandenburger Tor, Reichstag, Unter den Linden, drank in the bars in Mitte, Museuminsel, Checkpoint Charlie and the DDR Museum.
Then, just before Christmas last year, I went to the markets with my mother. It was wonderful. Snowy, wrapped up in multiple layers, sipping Gluhwein, eating Rahmbrot fresh from a wood fired oven, generally feeling the Christmas buzz. We made a snowman in the Tiergarten, spent too much time browsing handmade Christmas decorations and went to the Käthe Kollwitz museum. We thought we may not get home for Christmas but as it happens we got the only flight out of Berlin to Dublin that week. I had resigned myself to the fact that we’d be spending Christmas in Berlin (and was quite looking forward to it) but we were happy to get home all the same.
So in September, for Niall’s birthday, we again headed to Berlin. I fear that while my dad is there, and we have free accommodation, we may never go anywhere else! This time, we felt we had covered most of the touristy things so we wanted to do something slightly different. Maybe veer off the tourist trail a bit. While I’m not sure we explored any new things as such, some of what we saw was different to the previous trips and felt more like we were coming to grips with Berlin.
About two weeks before we were due to go, a tweet from @bjornschmidt led me to this link for Rollin Restaurant pop-up which just happened to be taking place on Niall’s birthday. The 40 lucky foodies who got places were treated to a night celebrating produce from the deep blue sea. You can read more about the experience here.
During the Rollin Restaurant meal, I got talking to some of the people at our table and asked them for a recommendation of a bar we could go to after the meal. A 1920s style saloon bar which serves old fashioned cocktails was recommended. Off we trotted to Nollendorfstrasse where we found Stagger Lee (named after the Nick Cave song) and inside we were treated to the best whiskey cocktails with an old school blues singer. It was the perfect end to Niall’s birthday. You can read more about the experience here.
Berlin Festival took place in the old Tempelhof airport hangar in Kreuzberg. While it’s no Electric Picnic, it has a great vibe and lots of good music. Tickets are cheap (less than €100) for the two day festival. It takes place in two venues, Tempelhof airport and after 11pm, buses come and transport everyone to Arena which is like four clubs all rolled into one. It’s a really well-run festival which I hope to get to again next year. You can read more about the experience here.
I read a review of Bar Raval in Kreuzberg on the Berlin on a Platter blog and decided I must make an effort to find it when I was in Berlin. On our last night, I dragged Niall across town on the S to find Lübbener Strasse 1. Found the street no bother but as we were walking down, checking the establishments, I wondered whether we had missed it. Got to the end of the street and lo and behold, there it was, looking all derelict and shut up. But as soon as we walked through the door, we realised that it was a well-kept secret in those parts (or maybe not, as it was quite busy for a Tuesday night). We had two mix plates: one cold, one hot and a bottle of Ribera del Duero and while not the most mind-blowing of tapas, our tastebuds were tickled and we left full and satisfied.
The first time me & Niall visited my parents last year, they took us to a little bar they love in Savignyplatz. They love it because of the cat who frequents the bar there. A massive tabby called Zappa, who has his own blanket in the window, has photos and pictures dedicated to him on the walls and even has a book written about him. A Zwiebelfisch (translates as onion-fish) was actually a mistake in the old print materials in times when newspapers etc would have to be typeset manually. Like our typos I guess. Anyway, the bar itself has lots of charm with people coming and going all night. It was there that we met Jana who was very kind and let me practise my German even though she spoke perfect English. She is also the person who has the very clever idea of setting her alarm clock on a night out so that she knows when to take herself off to bed. Genius.
The Grinderman of Nikolaiviertel
On one of our cycle jaunts around Berlin, we were en route to Prenzlauerberg from Wilmersdorf and it was quite warm so by the time we got to the Nikolaiviertel, we were parched. So we stopped off in a little pub near a bookshop and ordered two massive Schultheiss beers. As we sat there and Organ Grinder came up and started playing lovely old tunes from My Fair Lady and the like. After a while someone threw down some money from a window above and someone else brought it up to the man. He explained that this was typical in olden times, that someone would throw money from above, or send it down with children or dogs to show their appreciation for the music. He invited us over to see how the instrument worked. He showed us how to change the spool and he even let Niall play for a while. He also told us that it was an original organ from the mid 1800s (I think) and it had survived the wars.