Blog for September 2016 with Photographs, Travel Notes and Local History
Friday September 2nd 2016
Women's Rights Issue at Wolverley ... here at the Lock Inn is another example of a woman struggling to turn the handle on the lock gate - it is hard work. And yet, time after time, I always see a woman in such a situation whilst the bloke is on the tiller. Come on women get that lardy lazy git to share the workload.
Tuesday September 6th 2016
We are heading to Berlin via train and have an overnight stay at Brussels. Heck, who needs an excuse to visit Brussels? It is a city packed with great architecture, fantastic cafés and plenty of good food to be found. It was on the latter front that we found ourselves walking to Ixelles. I cannot recall walking along Rue Van Elewyck on previous visits so it took us a while to complete our perambulation due to the large number of fine art nouveau houses to admire.
We were heading to Dolma, a superb vegetarian restaurant that we have enjoyed on a number of occasions. They now have a shop in the same street and there is a tremendous amount of bio beer available. Many of the Belgian brewers are seemingly offering some form of organic beer within their portfolios. Best bit of window shopping we have done for a while!
We had time to nip into Le Pantin a few doors away from Dolma on Chaussée d'Ixelles. It has been a few years since our last visit to Le Pantin. Indeed, on our previous visit the smoking ban was not in place and the bar was thick with smoke. Despite the health risks, this seemed to intensify the atmosphere of this dependable old bar with creaky furniture and seasoned customers. Le Pantin was then run by a bit of a grump who looked like he had just staggered out of a beer festival. Still, the beer was excellent and the emphasis was on board games and good conversation. Although the beer choice is still decent, the bar seems to have been spruced up a little and patronised by a younger crowd. A large screen telly dominates the back end of the pub and many of the customers were engaged with their phones rather than talking to each other - a sign of the times I guess. Board games are apparently still available but I cannot remember a €10 deposit being required before. Veggie options are available on the menu but you would be mad to choose a burger over the exotic food on offer a few doors away in Dolma. Nonetheless, Le Pantin is still worth a visit as it remains one of the better cafés in Ixelles. But can we have the massive candles back on the servery please?
Top beer and heavenly veggie food ... Much revered by the world's herbivores - yes, this place is known around the globe - Dolma has been one of our favourite restaurants for around a decade. Things have changed a little since our last visit. Already fragmenting, the co-operative that owned the shop and adjoining restaurant sold up in 2015. The new owner, however, was keen to maintain the bio ethics of the business and the restaurant's high standards have been maintained. Partly refurbished, the interior of the restaurant has been spruced up and is smarter in appearance. One of the old co-operative has remained and was running the front-of-house. Always a congenial host, he has been here for 16 years and this continuity is much valued.
In addition to expanding the bio beer range in the shop, Dolma has a few pleasant additions to the drinks menu, including the rather wonderful Goliath Blonde, a Wallonne beer produced from natural ingredients [no additives] which is deliciously fruity and hoppy, not dissimilar in taste to the old recipe used in the more well-known Tripel Karmeliet. Using only local ingredients, the Brasserie des Légendes started life in 1997 but took until the new millennium to launch their first commercial beer. The barley is grown on the family farm and the brewery has a strong ethical policy, particularly within their local economy. Essentially, it is beer with ethics.
The prices of the buffet at Dolma seem to have increased and it is €19.50 per person for an evening meal or €24.50 if you take the optional dessert. The quality of the food offering remains fabulous and your tastebuds are bombarded with an array of delicious flavours throughout. If you wish to sample Dolma on a lower budget it is cheaper during the lunchtime session. Highly recommended.
On the walk back to our hotel we called into Brasserie Le Verschueren at Sint-Gillisvoorplein, one of our favourite brown cafés in Brussels. We had the place to ourselves on a sticky hot evening in Saint-Gilles. The weather was so hot the customers had spilled onto every table on the pavements, abandoning this inter-war pub interior for us to soak up. Have a look at the images - is this the perfect drinking room? No big screens, no machines, tables arranged so that it is hard not to engage with the people around you. Oh, and plenty of art deco fittings. A couple of glasses of De Ranke XX hit all the right notes and all in the right order.
Wednesday September 7th 2016
Germany 4 England 0 - in terms of running a train service. Here we are on a train to Berlin. The train is about to arrive at Wuppertal so the screens [mounted on the ceiling every ten metres or so] show not only the arrival time but also details of the connecting bus services, expected delay to any given bus and the stand or platform passengers need to head for. Why oh why can't we have this on our trains?
After arriving in Berlin and settling into our accommodation, we ventured out for a bite to eat and grab a few beers. We had done some research beforehand and walked to Friedrichshain in search of Patta. If a baked potato sounds like a simple no-nonsense snack or light meal then think again. Patta have elevated the humble spud to new levels of exotica. The only criticism I can level at this place is that seating space is very limited - but only because the word has spread and everybody wants a bit of the action. Still, you can just ask some locals to budge-up and squeeze in for a bit of friendly banter whilst you salivate over the potato presented to you.
There is a Turkish-style baked potato in there somewhere underneath the delicious fillings. Patta uses extra large potatoes that are baked in a special oven, cut and mashed with a trace of butter, a pinch of salt and a bit of Gouda cheese. We ordered the "Patta Original" which features Couscous, Olives, Corn, Beans, Cherry Tomatoes, Parsley, Grapes and Salad. So yummy it was sensational. This is very filling and only €6. There are many other options. They are mainly, but not exclusively veggie but much of the menu, probably dubbed fusion, has apparently some vegan options. I would however advise visitors to ask about the latter if they are using cheese in the baking process. Patta also sells a range of interesting fruit juices. Service is extremely friendly and they are keen to ensure you have enjoyed your experience. This visit has made me rethink my own baked potato options - I am going to think outside the box in future and be a little more experimental. Thanks Patta.
Since German reunification the area of Berlin's Friedrichshain has gradually become a trending place to be or be seen. The streets remain a little shabby though the apartments retain much of their elegance. In such a hip environment it was perhaps inevitable that some cool dudes would start up a micropub. In 2008 Hops and Barley went one further by installing a brewery inside the retail area of their premises. Their success has resulted in the tiny brewing kit [pictured above] being largely redundant because they have to produce larger quantities to the rear of the former butcher's shop. Still used occasionally, the vessels look fantastic and, combined with the Portuguese ceramic tiling around the walls, the pub has great character for such a relatively recent addition to Berlin's beer scene.
With a mission to enrich the Berlin beer culture through innovation during the traditional brewing process, the owners of Hops and Barley continually experiment with both German and American hop varieties to produce unfiltered ales of note, all of which are labelled bio as they source organic ingredients. They also produce their own gluten-free cider. There are three regular beers augmented by two continually-changing special weekly brews. Everything we tried was fantastic - no wonder the place is always busy. Berliners are justifiably raving about the beer at Hops and Barley.
I particularly liked the Friedrichshainer Dunkles, a very dark bottom-fermented unfiltered lager. The use of four different malt varieties produces a complex roasty character. One of the weekly special brews during our visit was an ultra-fantastic Spezial IPA which blew our minds - literally. One way of describing this orgasmic brew was that it was like an extremely pimped-up version of Oakham's Bishop's Farewell. Our tastebuds were on overload.
There are three rooms inside Hops and Barley but the front drinking area is the most atmospheric and the place to soak up the lovely ambience. I believe that customers are allowed to smoke in the back room. Football is sometimes shown in the pub but generally Hops and Barley is similar in character to a fine old traditional English boozer in days of old. The pub is a modern classic.
Starting our Berlin drinking at Hops and Barley in Friedrichshain was perhaps a mistake. It was too much of a high for others to follow. However, we made our way to the Michelberger Hotel on Warschauer Straße as I had heard that they had a unique beer to sample. It could be argued that drinking an American-style IPA in Berlin is a bit of a cheat but it is not often you stumble upon what is probably a massive tick for some beer nutters.
The Mikkeller microbrewery was established in 2006 by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a maths and physics teacher who had been experimenting with hops, malt and yeast in his Copenhagen kitchen. Dare we say that he is doing a Walter White [Breaking Bad] by cooking up a storm outside of the classroom? He teamed up with journalist Kristian Klarup Keller and started a "cuckoo" brewery enterprise in that they utilised the plant of other brewers to concoct a range of innovative beers that quickly fostered a cult status. Although, they have a few recipes to which they return from time-to-time, they tend to brew up limited editions and small batches. In 2013 alone they produced 124 different beers, a stratagem that has garnered some cult status and rave reviews. Oh, and a few awards too. I also like the fact that this is one beer brand that will frustrate the ticking brigade.
The slightly funky Michelberger Hotel have established a relationship with the Danish brewing maestros and have a house beer produced at De Proefbrouwerij in Belgium. Mikkellerberger is brewed with light malts and a mixture of American Columbus, Citra, Simcoe and Amarillo hops, combined with a New Zealand hop, Nelson Sauvin. These combine to provide a beer with a terrific floral aroma whilst delivering a refreshingly fruity taste.
The beer is served in the Honolulu Bar of the hotel. Walking along Warschauer Straße I imagined a bar servery adorned with a straw roof and waitresses in grass skirts. Disappointingly however, the room was furnished in contemporary style with settees and piles of books arranged for cosmetic rather than cerebral appeal. Service was however very friendly and, yes, they do have Mikkeller beer. We enjoyed this in the hotel's courtyard which is rather nice. A good way to round off our first night in Berlin.
Thursday September 8th 2016
The best way to see Berlin is on a bicycle. We couldn't do it all as Berlin is such an interesting city packed with history, culture, museums, architecture, forests and, of course, good beer. In five days we didn't leave the city limits but managed to pedal 250km in a whirlwind stop-start sightseeing tour.
Located in the former Schultheiss Brewery in the Prenzlauer Berg district, Berlin on Bike offers both reasonably-priced cycle hire and guided bike tours. Perhaps because of the large volume of bikes the company operates, the machines could do with a little TLC. They have hundreds going in and out every day so bike maintenance must be quite awkward. However, the machines come ready-to-roll for the casual bike tourist.
Berlin on Bike do not simply hand over a bike and hope for the best - no, the helpful staff undertake some bike sizing and adjustments for your comfort. A very obliging Mario tried three bikes before presenting me with an extra-large trekking bike with trigger-action gear levers - much preferable to twist-switch gear changing. The cable had stretched somewhat, thus making sprocket changes a little awkward. This 'mechanical' was not helped by the lack of chain lube but, as Berlin is mostly flat, I was not going to be trying out the full range of ratios. In fact, some days I just left the bike in a middling-combo of chainring and cassette so that I did not need to change up or down at all.
The Dutch bike was fairly comfortable - even over the Berlin pavé sections. Cycle locks are provided but I recommend bringing a multi-tool and a spare inner tube as Berlin has a high level of glass lurking beneath your wheels. This can spoil a good day out on the bike. We were lucky but I imagine that a few visitors have found themselves walking to the nearest bike shop to seek help. The bike was not fitted with a pump so I also recommend carrying a mini-pump or CO2 canister in your pocket. Throughout the bike fit and administration process we enjoyed friendly conversation with Mario, once a resident of the former East Berlin who has witnessed great changes during his lifetime.
We undertook two guided tours with Berlin on Bike, both of which were outstanding. The "Best-of-Berlin" tour was led by the affable Lille-born Thomas, who also works as a freelance architect in the city. This background enables him to underpin the tour with elements of town planning, social history and building design, all of which combined to enrich our experience. The cycling pace during these tours is very steady, which enables the most inexperienced cyclist to stay within the safety of the group. Both tours had 10-minute breaks for a toilet stop or an opportunity to grab lunch-on-the-go.
A resident of Berlin since the turn of the Millennium, Birmingham-born Andy brings his idiosyncratic and exuberant style to his "Berlin Wall" tour. His rapid-fire dialogue packs in a lot of information and his presentation grips the attention of all. He augmented the tour with an ongoing game in which all riders had to identify the Stasi agent within the group. If you want to know about the wall, the politics, the DDR regime, border control and tragic events caused by a divided city, then you will find Andy's "Berlin Wall" tour most enlightening. Of course, we undertook plenty of independent cycling but these tours were a great way to learn and ride in a most fun way. Berlin on Bike is highly recommended.
The "Best-of-Berlin" tour returned us to the old Schultheiss Brewery so we were not a million miles away from one of the most celebrated of beer gardens. The weather was extremely hot for the time of year and we were in need of refreshment. It was time therefore for one of Berlin's traditional drinks. Yes, we drank the beer from a straw because that is how it is served. And where better to sip our beer through a straw than the Prater Garten und Gaststätte, thought to be the oldest beer garden in the city. The restaurant and garden are something of an institution in Berlin and it is quite an experience. The best time to visit is in the early evening when the garden looks quite enchanting with lighting and a vibrancy created by the crowd.
On this occasion we called in during the late afternoon. We were parched so found the Berliner Weiße to be suitably refreshing. Once dubbed the "Champagne of the North" by Napoleon, the origins of the beer have been lost in the mists of time. Some suggest that it did not originate in Berlin at all but came from Hannover. However, the tart beer has been associated with the city for centuries. It is rare for us to drink beer with little or no hops but this beer style is roughly half and half of wheat and barley. The acidity stems from the introduction of Lactobacillus bacteria - hence the popular need for a fruity offset with syrup, a choice of Himbeere for a raspberry-laced drink, or Waldmeister, for a green grassy herb woodruff flavour. We both opted for the red version and enjoyed a beer comprising of a very light body, with the acidity creating a very zingy feel in the mouth. Though the syrup adds sweetness, the finish is surprisingly crisp and dry. Berliner Weiße had become almost extinct in the late 20th century but the emergence of the craft beer movement, particularly in the experimental regions of the United States, saw a revival of the recipe in various guises. But really, you do not visit Berlin without sampling this famous beer.
The Prater Garten und Gaststätte have quite a history going back to the early 19th century. Political meetings were held here along with concerts, plays, balls and other theatre. It was once owned by the Pfefferberg brewery until being acquired by the nearby Schultheiss company. It survived the war without too much damage and emerged as an important cultural centre during the post-war years.
In what was left of the late afternoon and early evening, we cycled to a number of locations, some well-known, others less so. The images below show some of the highlights of this tour on two wheels, including one of the superb murals to be found at Mehringplatz.
We wound up at 'Street Food Thursday' at Markthalleneun in Eisenbahnstraße which is open every Thursday from 17.00hrs to 22.00hrs in the old market hall close to Görlitzer Bahnhof. We arrived about six and the place was rammed. This makes it a bit awkward for browsing, sampling and ordering not to mention finding a place to sit. Perhaps getting in early doors is a good strategy!
The variety of food on offer is tremendous with plenty of veggie options too. There are reasonably-priced dishes from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Central and South America - and many more places. There is a good atmosphere amid the crowd who come to relax and enjoy something exotic. Highly recommended for an extraordinary nosebag.
We rounded off a busy and highly enjoyable day by a second visit to Hops and Barley for more tremendous beer.
Friday September 9th 2016
We started pedalling early to head for our breakfast stop, the bonus being another excellent example of street art on Wühlischstraße opposite Böcklinstraße. This mural was created in 2002 by Christian "Lake" Wahle and Gino Fuchs, the pair being famous for their work two years later at Uhlandstraße where they portrayed German politicians dangling on strings and being controlled by a puppet master.
We cycled out to Boxhagener Straße ready for fuelling. It speaks volumes about Haferkater that we eschewed the full buffet breakfast at our hotel in order to cycle out for a bowl of porridge. Not just any old porridge mind you, the bowls served up at "Oats Hangover" are the most delicious organic breakfasts for cyclists requiring an orgasmic dose of slow release energy for the day's pedalling action. Only in Berlin could some cool dudes dream up a business model based around oats!
Following our delicious breakfast we spent a good amount of time admiring the monumental architecture at Karl-Marx-Allee, a wide thoroughfare planned as the first socialist street in East Berlin. Formerly known as Große Frankfurter Straße, the thoroughfare was renamed Stalinallee in December 1949. Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev renamed it Karl-Marx-Allee. Construction work on the project commenced in 1952 and the buildings were erected in Soviet wedding cake style. It is thought that funding precluded continued development in this flamboyant style and later buildings were rather more functional. However, the sheer scale of the development was planned to be awe-inspiring and remains so to this day.
Away from the grandeur of the early buildings and towards the centre of the city there are two wonderful buildings from the 1960s. The modernist Kino International remains in use as a cinema whilst across the street is Café Moskau with a replica Sputnik satellite hovering above the corner of the building. Well, it doesn't quite hover as it is supported by a metal pole.
If anybody wanted suitable premises for their retro-chic 60s-style fashion or furniture then this place would be a dream come true. Built by Josef Kaiser between 1961-4, Café Moskau makes use of metal and concrete to enhance the first floor frontage largely of glass. However, it is the mosaic mural entitled "From the lives of the people of the Soviet Union" by the painter Bert Heller for which the building is perhaps better known. The days of the building as a restaurant are long gone and the iconic structure is now used as a multifunctional event venue.
Erected around the same time as Café Moskau, and located at Alexanderstraße 9, is the Haus des Lehrers [or House of the Teacher], a tall modernist box structure designed by Hermann Henselmann. This building is noted for its Mexican mural by the artist Walter Womacka that wraps around the entire building. Comprising 800,000 mosaic stones, this is entitled "Unser Leben" [Our Life] and depicts the work and social life in the former German Democratic Republic.
We cycled from modernist buildings to an ancient structure when going to look at a fragment of the old city walls at Waisenstraße and Littenstraße, the bonus being that a rather unique tavern is located nearby and it was time for refreshments.
Would you have the bottle to sit in this pub chair? The seat is said to have received the arse of Napoleon as he made his way eastward towards Moscow before getting it severely kicked and promptly returned to Paris. The massive perch is part of what is known as the Stammstich - or regulars' table - so I imagine there would be a bit of a rumpus should you park yourself squarely here and start perusing the wine list.
The hostelry was named Zur Letzten Instanz - in the last instance - when the nearby court was constructed in 1924. However, it is claimed that this is Berlin's oldest hostelry. Its location next to fragments of the old city walls coupled with the building's fabric support this assertion though, of course, the place had to be completely rebuilt after the war. However, the original building is said to date from the early 17th century and legend has it that Ludwig van Beethoven was once a customer. There are three traditional rooms though, with the temperature soaring to 28 degrees, we opted for the delightful terrace under the trees. The waitress was incredibly nice and brought us free cake to go with our drinks!
Markischer Landmann is the choice amid the three dispensed via the ancient fonts at the servery - the others being Berliner Kindl and Schultheiss. We did not eat here but the menu does draw a crowd. But really you are coming here for its rekindled antiquity and charm, which Zur Letzten Instanz has maintained throughout its ruin and rebirth.
We cycled to a wide variety of locations during the afternoon and experienced much curiosity, admiration, joy, sadness and reflection. Despite some of the poignant history of the place, there is so much beauty and engaging sights, with buildings and scenes throwing up the most striking juxtapositions. Here are a few images from our cycle ride undertaken on this afternoon....
The above images are just a few of the many photographs captured on this day - what a city! By the early evening we were in need of a few beers so headed to Legiendamm in order to patronise the Gaststätte Zur Kleinen Markthalle and enjoy a taste of Frankfurt and Upper Franconia.
Berlin has a number of themed bars, some good but some not so great. A number of the old taverns have been gentrified or converted into trendy eateries. It was such a pleasure therefore to visit Zur Kleinen Markthalle where a sense of the traditional German hostelry is being upheld. The bar may not be truly historic but it is has been housed for a good number of years in the former Market Hall, a building dating from 1888 and once covering a large area between Oranienplatz and Buckower Straße.
Only two parts of the original complex survived the Second World War. The café housed in the Dresdener Straße frontage has the more impressive façade but this corner plot is also an important vestige of Berlin's history. The Luisenstädtischer Kanal once flowed past the front of the building. The waterway was dug in the mid-19th century to link the River Spree and Landwehr Canal. Today, you can stand on the site of the canal and look along the lime tree avenue to Michaelkirchplatz with its extraordinary church, half restored and half in ruins as a macabre memorial to the destruction of war.
There are some historic photographs inside the dark interior of the Zur Kleinen Markthalle. The hot weather resulted in most of the customers sitting beneath the trees on a front courtyard, a pleasant area where we found a few seats to enjoy some fabulous beer. The Kulmbacher Mönchshof Schwarzbier a dark, malty chocolate beer was tremendous. The big head of the beer remained for much of the drink leaving a nice lacing down the glass. The sweetness of the chocolate malt is balanced with tangy fruit flavours and nice mild hoppy dry finish.
I enjoyed the Kulmbacher Mönchshof Schwarzbier so much it was hard to make a shift but when there is another promising ale on tap you simply have to wrench yourself from something you love to something that looks good. This is not a metaphor for relationships by the way! Progusta India Pale Ale was the house guest ale for the evening and this combines American Citra and German Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hop varieties to deliver a lovely fruity, hoppy beer. The official tasting notes from this Frankfurt-based craft brewery states that this IPA is full of "fruity apricot and orange notes along with hints of elderberry blossom and cashew nuts, spiced up with mild curry and a dash of ginger, and brought out by delicate sweetness and a balanced bitter note." Beer is getting very complex these days but, wow, it was terrific.
If Zur Kleinen Markthalle had a few more veggie options it would perhaps be the most perfect place in Berlin. However, they seem to specialise in chicken - well, the building is thought to have housed the poultry section of the market. So, with much regret, we had to depart in search of food. However, this is an "essential pub" on any tour of Berlin.
When enjoying our tasty spuds at Patta, we noticed that next door there was a vegan-friendly eaterie mixing Lebanese, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern plates with aplomb. We had made a note to go back and try them out. The restricted menu of Zur Kleinen Markthalle meant that we had to clamber on our bikes and wobble along to Krossener Straße to Ali Baba. It was worth the effort as the mixed platter was fantastic. Hugely calorific no doubt but so, so tasty. We received fast and pleasant service and wished that we could relocate the business to our street back home!
Saturday September 10th 2016
We had two really great days cycling around Berlin. I mean truly memorable days. Surely today cannot be equal to these? But we were going to give it a go. Following our breakfast we cycled along Muhlenstraße and the East Side Gallery where part of the old Berlin wall has been converted into the largest open-air gallery in the world. The gallery is officially a heritage-protected landmark and is now behind a wire fence as it has been vandalised on so many occasions. This spoils the experience somewhat but it is a slow ride along the gallery as there are so many fine murals to appreciate.
The most famous mural is that of a painting of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing. It is the work of the Russian artist Dmitri Vladimirovich Vrubel and entitled "My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love."
From the East Side Gallery we went to look at the Oberbaumbrücke from a vantage point at Cuvrystraße. If you have watched the 1998 German thriller "Run Lola Run" or, more recently, binged on box sets of "Berlin Station," then this landmark structure will be familiar. Designed by Otto Stahn in the North German Brick Gothic style of a city gate, the highly decorative bridge was opened in 1896, replacing an older river crossing. The two towers were reportedly inspired by the Mitteltorturm at Prenzlau. It is a double-decker bridge with a road below U-Bahn lines.
We pedalled sort of towards the city and returned to the locality of Kleinen Markthalle to take a look at Der Michaelkirchplatz in daylight. The mid-19th century Sankt-Michael-Kirche was only partially rebuilt after being damaged during World War 2. With the closure of the canal in 1926, the ditch was converted into a park and this creates a superb view of the church which is preserved as a historical monument.
There is always time to pop a chocolate in your mouth for a bit of cycling nutrition so when we found ourselves in Charlottenstraße we could not resist the array of calorific treats along what is claimed to be the world's longest chocolate bar. The place is very touristy and even has chocolate sculptures of the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and other Berlin landmarks. When we are in Belgium we tend to avoid these lavish places and seek out a family-run chocolate shop in a side street. But, what the heck, we'll have two of them and two of those please. Gulp, yummy, continue pedalling. Well not until having a look at the Deutscher Dom or Neue Kirche and Französischer Dom at Gendarmenmarkt.
A highlight of the day was seeing the large mural at the former Reichsluftfahrtministerium, the gargantuan building that was erected for the Reich Air Ministry between 1935-6. The complex was erected in the typically dominant and commanding architectural style of the Nazi regime and, incredibly, survived bombing raids over the city during the war. Following occupation by the Soviet military, the structure served as the headquarters to the GDR Council of Ministers under the name Haus der Ministerien. Added in 1952, the mural to the northern façade was created with hand-painted Meissen porcelain tiles and depicts people celebrating life in the German Democratic Republic. The mural is widely regarded as a masterpiece of socialist art.
We headed to Potsdamer Platz, the sight of which stunned me. Although Berlin has changed considerably over the last quarter of a centry, this part of the city is completely unrecognisable from the open space that surrounded the wall during the 1980s. Indeed, one could argue that this area has seen the greatest change in its history. Once a fashionable square, it was destroyed during the war and then acted as a death strip next to the wall for a few decades before its transformation to a glass and steel complex.
Lindenbräu am Potsdamer Platz is not the sort of place we would normally rush to visit as there is just too much glass and chrome for our liking. But, hey, it's a brewpub so you have to go! The main entrance is within the Sony Centre, a vast complex containing shops, restaurants, hotel rooms, offices, a cinema and Legoland. The architect Helmut Jahn may as well have used Lego bricks for all the soul the place has. By the time the building matures and attempts to possess some character, the materials will look dilapidated and the whole thing will need to be replaced. The integration of the old Grand Hotel's Breakfast Room and Palm Courtyard and displayed behind a glass screen is ridiculous - only the rebuilding of the Stadtschloss is a sicker joke. Berlin should be investing in the shabby communities that are only a quick spin in a Trabi from the city centre. It is true that some sort of development had to take place on what was largely a derelict space, part of which was in no-man's land created by the Berlin Wall. However, a sea of glass and steel just makes Potsdamer Platz look like, well, just about any other civic project in any other part of the world. And there's the rub - the entire Potsdamer Platz scheme is the work of Renzo Piano, the bloke behind London's Shard and, consequently, it would not look out of place in the middle of Dubai.
If you like modern shopping malls and are fans of trendy bars within glass palaces you will probably enjoy Lindenbräu. That is, if you visit during a quiet session in the afternoon. The place has developed a reputation for l-o-n-g delays in the evening when they seemingly cannot cope with a full house on three floors. Undoubtedly, the brewing plant looks impressive. They only brew one Weißbier so if you read reviews on Trip Advisor [other travel websites are available!] where visitors talk of the range of interesting beers, they are inadvertently discussing the flavourings added to the beer such as banana, passion fruit, mango or, wait for it, Pepsi Cola. Yes, you read it correctly : Pepsi Cola in a beer - bastardisation of the highest order. If you are sensible you will order 'ohne schuße' and will be served a reasonably good beer, sharp but refreshing. You could also opt for the Altbairisch Dunkel, a Munich Dunkel Lager style beer brewed by the parent company's Hofbräuhaus in Traunstein, pleasant enough but lacking depth and punch.
We escaped from the Sony Centre and the madding crowd by having a meander through the wonderful Tiergarten Park, an urban recreation space of which Berlin is justifiably proud. Riding through the woodland, it is hard to believe that hardly a tree remained after the Second World War. Any timber that did survive the incendiary bombs was taken for firewood as Berliners struggled for survival following the destruction of the city. With the Lord Mayor Ernst Reuter ceremoniously planting the first tree, the Tiergarten was reforested from 1949 to 1959. On one such tree we came across bears the lyrics to "Stand By Me," the song most famously recorded by Ben E. King. The tree does not appear to have been damaged by the careful carving of the lyrics - indeed, the bark seems to have healed. Nobody knows who spent so many hours carving the letters or the inspiration for such an act.
We cycled around much of the park before looking at the Heinrich Strack-designed Siegessäule, erected to commemorate the victory in the Danish-Prussian War. The monument originally stood in Königsplatz but was moved to the Großer Stern as part of Adolf Hitler's vision of Welthauptstadt Germania where the column would form a centrepiece of the former Charlottenburger Chaussee. It is ironic therefore that the Soviet War Memorial stands a short distance away and built from stonework taken from the destroyed Reich Chancellery.
Of course we cycled around the more obvious locations in the vicinity, including the Norman Foster-restored Reichstagsgebäude. However, the building I really wanted to see was the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a remarkable landmark of 1950s architecture. Designed by Hugh Stubbins, the building was constructed in just one year when the United States government presented what was then the Kongresshalle to the City of Berlin. The architect described the symbolic value of his design as 'completely free' and that it would 'present no restrictions on the freedom of intellectual work.' However, Berliners dubbed his ambitious project Die Schwangere Auster or "The Pregnant Oyster." The design was ultimately flawed and the roof collapsed in 1980, killing one person and injuring many others. It was restored and reopened in 1987. I have taken a photograph from John-Foster-Dulles-Allee which shows the Henry Moore bronze sculpture "Large Divided Oval: Butterfly," his last major work before his death in 1986.
We cycled a short distance along the Spree before heading north towards Moabit for lunch. Few tourists venture into this neighbourhood but it is full of interest as much of the city's industry and transport hubs were established here. The Huguenots settled in Moabit during the early 18th century and the area has continually attracted immigrants. More recently, lower property prices and rents has brought in some left field artists escaping the gentrification of other districts. The hotbed of cultures makes Moabit a bit edgy and we found it rather agreeable.
We were heading to the Crunch Kantine on Siemensstraße and stumbled upon two unexpected sights en-route. Firstly, the Fisch am Spieß sculpture within a small urban park/garden on Unionstraße [pictured above] and, secondly, the public convenience situated a few metres away. I cannot resist taking a photo of an old street loo. This type of octagonal cast-iron urinal first appeared on Berlin's streets in 1878. The criss-cross latticed metalwork above provides ample ventilation. Inside, it is remarkably well-appointed with slate and marble urinals. Note also the old lanterns above the entrance. A good piece of historic street furniture.
From Unionstraße it is not too far to Bahnhof Beusselstraße. The bridge affords a view across the railway tracks where a highly decorative railway station was erected in the 19th century. The structure was destroyed by bombing during World War 2. However, it is still possible to see the water tower and signal box which were combined into one three-storey structure by Karl Cornelius in the early 1890s. The building features yellow brick cladding and an overlying half-timbered upper storey from which water was fed into steam locomotives. A dark side of Berlin's history is in this location as the Moabit freight yard was used to transport more than 30,000 Jewish citizens to concentration camps during the nazi regime. A memorial has been erected on the neighbouring Putlitzbrücke and this has sadly been subjected to vandalism.
We rolled up to Crunch Kantine only to find that the owner had gone on holiday. This was a major setback as the café had received five star ratings on Happy Cow. We were really looking foward to what could have been a gastro highlight of our holiday. We therefore had to implement a back-up plan - you should always have a back-up plan as part of your itinerary. Consequently, we made our way to the nearby junction of Stephanstraße and Havelberger Straße to see if our fortunes would be any better at Valladares Feinkost.
Wow! We hit the jackpot with our back-up plan. Not only was the café ultra-cool with a soundtrack including Bon Iver and The White Stripes, but it was staffed by a lovely woman with a sense of humour. And to cap it all Valladares Feinkost has a totally vegan menu and .... a fridge full of bottled craft beers from the BRLO Brewery of Berlin, a company with an ethical business philosophy of using ecologically sound and bio-certified ingredients. We tried the dry-hopped unfiltered Pale Ale which uses five different hop varieties to zing around your tastebuds. This was great but even better was the IPA, lovingly created with three German hop varieties. At 7.0% ABV, it packs a punch within the delightful flavours.
Now, whilst all this lovely hoppy action was going on we were also getting stuck into a tasty lunch. We selected from the Panini menu and these were nicely presented and reasonably priced at €6.90. Valladares Feinkost is also a grocery shop and delicatessen so during our lounging around eating and drinking a few local residents drift in and out shopping for organic goodies. We still had lots of cycling to do so we had to wrench ourselves away from this wonderful café and climb back on the bikes. But how we enjoyed our visit here.
Moabit is home to one of the world's influential industrial buildings. In 1908 the architect Peter Behrens, together with the engineer Karl Bernhard, eschewed all traditional designs for factory buildings and produced this work for AEG [Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft]. Using a steel skeleton, the building's façade was filled with glass, flooding the interior with natural light, a design that was credited with increased productivity. The world of manufacturing took serious note and the industrial landscape was changed from this date.
The former tram sheds at Wiebestraße has been converted into a classic car centre with repair workshops, units for spare parts, clothing, model cars and accessories. The building seems to be open to the public - certainly we were not challenged when wandering around the place. We are relatively green - hence we travelled to Berlin via train rather than flying. We certainly would not consider driving around with the gas-guzzlers on display in this building. However, I have an odd affection for looking at such old metal. There were plenty of lavish vehicles with enormous price tags. This one is a much-altered Chevrolet Impala.
Another Moabit location in which it is possible to step back in time is the rather wonderful launderette on Gotzkowskystraße. Freddy Leck's Waschsalon seems to make the chore of doing the laundry a fun event. Moreover, as you can see from this interior wall, washing is an art form! In addition to lots of retro-chic fittings, there is a café, free wi-fi and a library of books of magazines to engage the brain whilst the machines whir and tumble.
It was fun in the centre of Moabit. By good fortune the local community were staging a gala event during our visit and this made it a fun place to be. Street performers, music and a variety of stalls brought the streets alive. Dating from 1891, the Arminiusmarkthalle is a vibrant shopping experience - and there is a craft beer bar to enjoy too. Brewbaker has six organic beers on tap. The brewery is run by Michael Schwab, who graduated as a brewing technologist at the Technical University of Berlin before launching the business in 2005.
Moabit has a Deportation Memorial on Levetzowstraße that was erected in 1988 on the site of Berlin's largest synagogue. The building was bombed during 1944 and demolished after the war. It was from this location that many of the city's Jewish community were formally processed before subsequent transportation to concentration camps from the aforementioned freight terminus. Accordingly, the memorial is a stylised representation of bound marble figures and a railway carriage loaded with human 'freight.' Erected under an initiative of the Berlin Senate, it is the work of architects Jürgen Wenzel and Theseus Bappert, along with the sculptor Peter Herbrich. The railway waggon stands next to a steel wall on which the departure dates of all the transportations are recorded. One can only imagine the fear and dread experienced by the people who had to endure their journey from this location.
After some reflection we cycled south-west back towards the Große Stern, across the Hansabrücke to look at St.-Ansgar-Kirche at Klopstockstraße, a superb example of post-war modernism. The church formed part of a planned development as part of the 1957 International Building Exhibition. The earlier church was destroyed in 1943 and the foundation stone of this building was laid on 21st October 1956. The design by Willy Kreuer was praised for its use of space and modern materials. We visited this church at a time when such architecture was starting to float our boat and completely fell in love with the place.
For another lovely piece of 1950s architecture - and a quirky piece at that - we cycled to Joachimsthaler Platz to look at the former traffic control pulpit in which a policeman would manually operate the traffic lights on the busy junction of Kurfürstendamm and Joachimstaler Straße. In what probably seemed a good idea at the time, the traffic pulpit came into operation in 1955. One can only imagine the temperature inside the glass box on a hot sunny day! The temperature would have increased as the increase in traffic applied more pressure on the poor soul operating the pulpit. Indeed, it was the volume of vehicles that put paid to the scheme and an automated junction was installed in October 1962. Thankfully, the pulpit has survived and was given protected status in 1989.
A short distance away at Budapester Straße is the fabulous Mengenlehreuhr. It seems a shame that this extraordinary clock should be tucked away up a corner, a site to which it was moved when the city scaled down its use in 1995. The masterpiece timepiece used to stand proudly on Kurfürstendamm on the corner of Uhlandstraße. Designed by Dieter Binninger and first installed on June 17th 1975, the clock has been a talking point for decades - there are a number of conspiracy theories! Look it up on Wikipedia to find out more - it is amazing.
Inside the Europa Center there is another clock worthy of closer inspection. The Flow of Time Clock was created by Bernard Gitton, the French physicist and artist who has installed a number of water clocks and fountains around the world.
We arrived at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche just before an organ recital which was good timing. This landmark building, old and new, closely correlates with the reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral, both structures suffering from bomb damage during the Second World War. A cross of nails, a symbol of peace and reconciliation and made of three nails from the ruins of the Coventry Cathedral, was donated to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in January 1987.
There are some murals and other street art to enjoy when cycling down Bülowstraße. We stopped to admire a few before realising this was a pick-up/drop-off zone for prostitutes! We were heading towards Crellestraße for a few beers. Der Leuchtturm, or The Lighthouse, is one of Berlin's quiet back street boozers where a sense of history can be savoured despite the fact that it has only been a pub since 1964. As you can see from the image however, the interior looks much older - many of the fittings are thought to date from the late 19th century and were lovingly restored within this building when everyone else was going modern.
There is plenty of interest on the walls of Der Leuchtturm and the pub could double as a museum - or antiques shop. We called in during early doors after a full day's cycling and sightseeing around Moabit, Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf. There were few punters but the lack of atmosphere was more than compensated by the welcoming and ulta-friendly disposition of the young woman [Lucia] running the place. She recommended that we try both the Schlossbrauerei Tannen Pils and Berliner Pilsner for refreshment and, whilst they were pleasant enough, were not too exciting. However, we had not expected any super rare beer, we simply came to visit an authentic down-to-earth Schöneberg tavern and this place fits the bill perfectly. We would love to come back when the place is bustling, as it often is with board games, chess and table football. A fine Berlin pub.
Sunday September 11th 2016
We started our varied Sunday cycle tour by heading towards Kreuzberg. Berlin never fails to throw up the odd surprise. Although it is hard to believe, the above photograph was taken on a busy traffic roundabout at Moritzplatz. An oasis of green amid surrounding concrete, Prinzessinnengarten was realised by Robert Shaw and Marco Clausen when they leased a patch of wasteland in order to create a community garden. The garden was inspired by Robert Shaw's trip to Cuba where he saw similar community projects.
From an unlikely urban garden we then went in search of an improbable elephant. Having already seen the wonderful murals at Mehringplatz, we pedalled into the neighbouring streets to appreciate some more street art, particularly in Wilhelmstraße. The elephant is not actually visible from the street so you have to venture into the rear community garden behind No.7 to see the explosion of colour entitled "Elephant playing with a balloon," the work of the artist Jadore Tong who generally works under the pseudonym Syrus [Save Your Rich Untouchable Soul.]
There is a very attractive brick tower at the pumping station of the former Lapidarium built in 1873 as the first pumping station of the Berlin wastewater system. Another extraordinary sight on today's cycle ride was this railway tunnel at Dennewitzstraße where a line of the U-Bahn passes through an apartment block. One can only imagine the vibration every now and then as people are lying in bed, taking a bath or relaxing in front of the television. Of course, residents can claim that they are never lonely as they have thousands of visitors every day of the week!
We followed the Landwehrkanal westwards to take a look at the Villa von der Heydt, a Neo-Renaissance building that was rebuilt after the Second World War. Originally built for Baron August von der Heydt, the house has a remarkable history because of the colourful residents and illicit activities that took place there from gambling, vice and wild parties.
Picture above is the Embassy of Mexico located a little further north on Klingelhöferstrasse, another great example of modernist architecture in Berlin. Featuring a façade of tall, partially sloping concrete columns, the building was designed by the architects Francisco Serrano and Teodoro González de León in 1997. You can have fun on the plinth to the Wings of Mexico sculpture to the side of the building.
We cycled through part of the Tiergarten before browsing around the flea market at Straße des 17.Juni, which I believe is the original Berliner Trödelmarkt. You could spend ages looking through the antiques, curios, bric-a-brac and junk but we limited ourselves to 15 minutes. There were too many sights to see rather than buying more clutter. The Charlottenburger Tor was erected in 1907 by the local authorities who were independent of Berlin in those days. Further west on Bismarckstraße is one of the last surviving swastikas in Berlin. It is hidden behind the No.48 in the talons of the eagle of the former tax office building.
There are many fine villas fronting the tree-lined avenues of Charlottenburg. We cycling around the streets before taking a look at the Rathaus on Otto-Suhr-Allee. A few metres to the north-east is another fine church built to replace the war-damaged predecessor. Indeed, this is the fifth church that has served the village of Lietzow. Designed by Ludolf von Walthausen, Die Evangelische Kirche is a tent-like hall construction with a freestanding bell tower.
Close to Die Evangelische Kirche is the former Villa Kogge, arguably one of the prettiest residences in Charlottenburg. The late neoclassical villa was built during the mid-1860s for the timber merchant Carl Albert Friedrich Kogge but in more recent times has served as a registry office.
From the quiet and attractive Alt-Lietzow it is only a few metres north along Lüdtgeweg to Siemenssteg, a pedestrian bridge spanning 77 metres across the Spree. At first I thought the Siemens name was from the power station to which the bridge links from Alt-Lietzow. However, when the bridge was commissioned and constructed at the end of the 19th century the plant was operated by W. Lahmeyer & Co. of Frankfurt. Apparently it was named after Werner von Siemens, the inventor and manufacturer who founded Siemens & Halske in 1847. The former soldier was a Social Democrat and expressed the hope that industrial development would not be used in favour of capitalism.
Siemenssteg is a work of some artistic merit. Rather like the waterworks companies of Victorian Britain, the electricity firm could have erected a functional structure to carry pedestrians and electrical cables across the river but chose a more elaborate design that features lightning-like motifs and sculpted electrical cables on the tall sandstone pylons at each bridgehead. Restored in 1960, the bridge is one of the best-preserved crossings of the Spree. The power plant was built to serve the-then independent city of Charlottenburg. The project was run by the young engineer Georg Klingenberg who, to emphasise the civic pride of the local authorities, created an attractive building in Brandenburg brick Gothic style.
We continued along the river and then had great fun cycling around the grounds of Schloss Charlottenburg. In all honesty, despite - or perhaps because of - the scale of the palace, we found The Belvedere more enchanting. Now housing an important porcelain collection, the former pavilion once used for royal chamber music concerts, was built during the period when the fashion for Baroque was shifting towards the Classicist style. Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, it was erected in 1788-89 for King Friedrich Wilhelm II.
Much of the afternoon was spent looking around the Olympiastadion and Olympic Park, including Das Haus des Deutschen Sports and Glockenturm. It takes quite a while to see these properly so you would have to allow a similar amount of time. Fascinating stuff and plenty that I did not previously know.
It was still baking hot during the late afternoon and we were pretty parched so we stopped for another Berliner Weiße for refreshment before riding alongside the River Havel and around the Berliner Funkturm before heading eastwards. Die Kirche Saint Canisius at Witzlebenstraße is another Berlin modern classic. In this case it is very modern because the 1950s church by Reinhard Hofbauer was completely destroyed by fire in 1995. Work on the present structure started in May 2000 and the architectal team of Heike Büttner, Claus Neumann and George Braun received the Berlin Architecture Prize of 2003. The beauty of Die Kirche Saint Canisius is its simplicity. Two connected white cubes create a church open on all sides for both invitational and spiritual effect. A wooden portal joins the two cubes, forming an entrance to an interior of light and a space conducive to peace and reflection.
The area where Wilmersdorf and Charlottenburg collide has retained some jewels of the Jugendstil movement, a late 19th century and early 20th century German decorative style parallel to Art Nouveau. Not to be outdone by their Belgian and French counterparts, the more affluent Berliners appointed architects, some from the fashionable Munich group, to design opulent apartment blocks in this part of the city. Some of the entrance doors provide clues to the inner wealth of art and beauty but other doorways have been toned down in subsequent years [particularly during political turmoil] so you will have to look out closely as if on a treasure hunt.
We squeezed between people drinking at tables on the pavement outside the entrance to Stuttgarter Platz 20. The entrance to the lobby is elaborate enough to suggest something special may be inside and, wow, what a glorious sight to behold - marble, carved wood and ceramics in what was a showstopping lobby for a former hotel.
All this sightseeing and aesthetic overload brought on the urge for a beer. Luckily, we were only a short distance from Mommsen-Eck on the corner of Mommsenstraße and Wilmersdorfer Straße, a fine tavern also known as the Haus der 100 Bier. Named in honour of the German composer Paul Hindemith, the square in front of the pub was designated Hindemithplatz in 1995. Erected in 1903-4, the St.-Georg-Brunnen monument once stood in the Bayernhof at Potsdamer Platz but the remains were moved here when war damaged buildings were demolished. The large statue of Saint George which stood between the pillars was apparently stolen after the war. The bronze was possibly traded and melted down.
It was not simply the case that the Mommsen-Eck has a great choice of beer, a few steps into the place and it was love at first sight. For my money, this is exactly how a Berlin pub should be. Wood panelling, interesting decor and furnishings, and simply a general look and ambience that makes for a congenial drinking environment. I wanted to buy an apartment next door just so I could have this as my local!
Mommsen-Eck was an obvious name for a tavern in Mommsenstraße as the tavern opened shortly after the death of Professor Theodor Mommsen in 1903. The historian, jurist, journalist, politician and archaeologist was Professor of Roman History at the University of Berlin in the mid-19th century. Widely regarded as one of the greatest classicists of the period, he was also a prominent politician. Theodor Mommsen received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1902, the year before he died aged 85.
I suspect that there more than 100 beers on offer at Mommsen-Eck. Moreover, they are sourced from around the world. La Goddess du Vélo opted for something quite exotic - well, it was the first time she had ordered a beer from Hawaii. The Fire Rock American Pale Ale by Kona Brewing Co. proved to be a good choice - a citrus-floral hop aroma is delivered by Galena, Cascade & Mt.Hood hops and the beer has a nice crisp finish.
You will notice there is no bottle next to my glass as I ordered from the 15 beers on tap. Long odds but I won the lottery as the Kloster Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel was simply magnificent and easily the beer of the holiday. The Bavarian Bock is plummy in colour and seems to be full of fruit on the palate, combining with a velvety chocolate character but with enough hops to deliver a lovely finish. At 7.0% this is a Bavarian version of a Belgian Christmas Ale. So if you visit the Haus der 100 Bier I recommend that you forget the other 99 and invest everything in the Kloster Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel which pays out a massive dividend.