It was very busy at East Midlands Airport which seemed strange that early in the morning (about 6am). It looked like there were around seven flights taking off within fifteen minutes of each other. I hadn’t eaten any breakfast before Siggy’s dad gave us a lift to the airport so I got a meal deal from one of the airport shops. The sandwich was as dry as a bone and contained overly salty ketchup and bacon. It was not good for my confused stomach. Poor me.
A work colleague had recommended I download the BVG ticket and journey app. This was an excellent idea and allowed Siggy and I to avoid queuing for tickets, and being confused as to what platform we needed to go to for the train into the city centre. For the record it was Platform 4 for the S Bahn to Alexanderplas where I thought our hotel was. A single ticket cost under 4 Euro each.
We then got a taxi from Alexanderplas to where our hotel was in the northern part of Kreuzberg. The taxi driver drove like a maniac and then had the audacity to want paying when we arrived out our destination. Our destination was Hotel Crowne Plaza Potsdamer (but not actually on Potsdamer Platz) which I can throughly recommend. We had a room on the 4th floor in the quiet zone and it was superbly quiet every night. It’s also within walking distance of two well-connected train stations – U Mendelsson-Bartholdy-Park and S Anhalter Banhof – the Tempodrom, the Liquidrom and the Bunker Museum.
Once we’d unpacked a little and bemoaned the fact that such a swishy hotel didn’t provide biscuits, we walked toward the nearby tourist hot spot Checkpoint Charlie and enjoyed our first tray of currywurst from a small kiosk.
Further along the road there is a balloon you can travel up in to see the city from up high with the unfortunate lost in translation slogan ‘die world’ on it reading almost like an anti-environmentalist message. There was also a large area dedicated to the distinctive trabi cars.
We skirted a section of the Berlin wall beside the Topography of Terror museum which sounded very depressing. Don’t get me wrong, I am fascinated by stories of WWII hopefully in a not-to-ghoulish way, but if it’s day one of a fun weekend break with my gal, I’m not sure I want to start it off by watching holocaust films and reading about how bloody awful the Nazis were. I’m still slogging my way through Michael Burleigh’s The Third Reich: A New History for that kind of grim.
We then ambled along the wide avenue 1km in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate stopping off at the Bike Cafe for cappuccinos and apple cake. As we approached the gate it was clear from the police cordons, the amount of people and the noise of bongos that dome kind of demonstration was taking place. We had been so busy at work that we had not realised it was the day of the Emergency Climate Strike worldwide.
We looked around the Jewish Holocaust Memorial. I had expected it to have an emotional effect on me (after the one in Paris reduced me to tears), but with kids playing hide and seek, the helicopters circling above, and the constant thud of dance music and someone trying to coax the massed placard waving crowd into some organised chanting, it lost whatever edge it might otherwise have had. Thoughts of the past were drowned out by protests against a globally catastrophic future.
We had to settle for a view of the back of the Brandenburg Gate over the heads of the protesters. I spotted the domed Reichstag in the distance and the TV tower in the further distance between banners saying thinks like ‘daddy was ist winter?’, ‘Fuck corruption not the climate’ and ‘Make love not CO2’. There was a lot of marijuana on the air which might have helped me not get too upset about bloody hippies spoiling my photo opportunities.
We escaped into the relative peace of the Tiergarten but there was little escaping the bass drum noise. We stumbled through the smoke and rabbit holes, took a short cut past a man having a piss up a tree, through some bushes and then came up against a temporary but insurmountable metal fence. We back tracked. The man had zipped up and zipped off. We admired the Beethoven-Haydn-Mozart-Denkmai fountain and then found our way to the Kultureforum.
Our intended target the very interesting sounding Neue Nationalgallerie was closed for refurbishment (something we’d see repeated over the next few days along with realising Berlin is indeed the building site of Europe). They were busy building around a funky looking music hall and we saw the first of a few model shoots with some heavily made up girl striking poses in a place where tramps might piss to terrible sounding dance music.
So instead we went to the nearby Gemaldegalerie which we found to be mostly full of Dutch religious paintings and old portraits of men wearing flat black hats. However there were some gems among the monotony including a version of Rembrandt’s Venus, a number of very nice Canalettos and Vermeer’s Young Lady with the Pearl Necklace – not to be confused with his Girl with the Pearl Earring.
We went for a lacklustre McDonald’s at the edge of Potsdamer Platz near a casino and a theatre showing the blue man group. Siggy had mozzarella bites which took some time to cook and all the while my cheap cheeseburger sat cooling next to our sinking milkshakes on the tray #firstworldproblems.
On the way back to the hotel, we popped into the Bunker Museum entrance but decided not to pay for entry as it sounded a bit long-winded for the end of the day. Instead we enjoyed a quick nap back at the hotel.
Then it was a seven-minute walk to the Kuche Bar a kitchen themed artisan cocktail bar. You have to ring a bell to enter like you are visiting a friend’s house. The cocktails were nice and came with little snacks, but they were very expensive.
The road was closed off by the police nearby and a lot of sirens could be heard. Amazing how environmentalists can cause pollution via traffic jams and sub-optimal driving. Still they’ve got good intentions I suppose. One thing I did notice was the large number of cyclists in the city and the space dedicated to them on most pavements. It’s easy to get in their way if you’re not paying attention.
We went the Greek restaurant Taverna Athene about five minutes walk from our hotel for dinner. It cost around 32E for a meal for two with two beers and two shots each of free ouzo. We had crispy garlic bread, Pastichio (Siggy), Chicken souvlaki (me) and shared some very nice Baklava.
Afterwards we walked down the street and around the corner to Yorckschlosschen – a jazz and blues bar which was crammed full of people as well as some hipster plucking on a double bass. Faced with nowhere to sit we back tracked toward the Taverna Athene.
We stopped for cheap beers in a dingy locals pub called the Schulrheiss bar that only served bottles. Siggy had piss weak Becks with green lemon and I just asked for beer and got a squat bottle of something hoppy. At just 3 Euro for the two bottles we couldn’t complain although with everyone smoking inside the pub we didn’t stay long.
We then embarked on a short walk past the Technik Museum to a craft brewery called BRLO. Siggy had a Watermelon Berliner Weiss and I had a queer tasting Cranberry Quince Gose.
Gose is a fermented German beer usually brewed with at least 50% malted wheat. Dominant flavours in gose are a lemon sourness, a herbal element, and saltiness. I am not a fan. I pinched my nose and drank it down. Then I decided to get a stick of five small glasses for 10 Euro to see if the beer was all as bad as the gose. Thankfully it wasn’t.
Berliner Weisse was sour and not cloudy and a little too similar to gose for my liking. Helles was very nice and I could quite happily drink it all day and all of night – it was the most drinkable of the selection. Pale ale – tastes very much like Blue Monkey brewery’s BG Sips. The German IPA made me go ‘wow wow woo woo’ like Borat – it had a complex hoppy flavour and was the most interesting of the five, but would’ve struggled to drink a pint. The Baltic Porter was very much like Blue Monkey’s Gorilla with a predominant brown sugar / treacle toffee flavour.
Mixed together the sum of the parts tasted better than the individual glasses mucky but true. We were quite drunk and tired by this stage so decided not to finish our drinks and take a quick peek at the Monochrome toilets and depart. It was all very Shoreditch.