Relics of the Cold War that divided Europe, great museums, home brewed beer, heavy metal bars and the birthplace of the doner kebab - Berlin's got the lot
I grew up in the 1960s so to me Berlin was a mysterious place full of spies exchanging information at foggy checkpoints and dissident scientists being smuggled through the border concealed within coffins. Of course the reality was far more tragic and, despite the years that have passed since German reunification, the surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall we found close to Warschauer Strasse Station still seemed to resonate with the brooding rage of a people divided by political ideology.
I found this isolated monument to the folly of politicians a far more fitting memorial to Cold War victims than the photo opportunity that Checkpoint Charlie (Friedrichstraase and Zimmersraase, nearest underground Kochstraase) has become. The present day checkpoint is a replica of the American border crossing built in 1961 where for a couple of euros you can have your photo taken with an actor in an American or Russian Military Police uniform. However there are a very touching set of display boards illustrating the wall’s history in Friedrichstrase which are worth taking a look at nearby.
A heavy night out
But there is far more to Berlin than the wall. Since its demolition the east has become a magnet to students, artists, musicians and other creatives seeking cheaper apartments and studios. The Friedrichschain district served by Warschauer Strasse Station is home to some of Berlin’s best music bars, therefore it was exactly the place for us to spend a Friday evening in Berlin.
First stop was Feuermelder (Krossener Straase 24) an easy going boozer with pool tables, inexpensive beer (€3-4 a pint) and loud punk and metal music. Most of the punters were students but there were a few old rockers so we felt right at home. After a few lagers we moved down the road to Paule’s Metal Eck (Krossener Straase 15) where the Gothic candle lit interior matched the Black Metal beat favoured by its customers. Right at home we partied on till 3am Saturday morning.
Fortunately at the weekend Berlin’s ever practical public transport system runs all night long and you can even buy beer from the station kiosks. Just like the Berliners, we carried on the party until we got back to our hotel. The beauty of Berlin’s public transport is that your ticket is valid for two hours and covers the suburban train network (S-Bahn), underground (U-Bahn), buses and trams. Tickets are €2.10 from the platform machines and cover Berlin zones A and B. €2.90 will take you out to BerlinSchönefeldAirport.
A full day out and about
Museumsinsel (MuseumIsland) nestled between the River Spree and the Kupfergraben is justly famous for its collections of antiquities and art. Pride of place must go to the bust of Queen Nefertiti, the wife of the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaton in the Altes Museum (Bodsestrasse 4; www.smb.museum/smb/standorte/index.php?lang=en&p=2&objID=24&n=2; Admission €8 but free after 6pm on Thursdays, nearest S-Bahn stations Hackescher Markt and Friedrichstraase), but there are plenty of other things to see.
Numerous cruise vessels operate on the Spree and we found this a very pleasant way to polish off the morning. The route from the quay just outside the DDR Museum in Karl Liebknecht Strasse, took in the great museums, Berlin Cathedral and both the old and new government buildings and embassies. All found very pleasant slide into the afternoon for €10.50.
We found a different kind of monument opposite the AltesMuseum in a garden in Rathaustrasse. Enormous Soviet era statues of Marx and Engels presented the ideal opportunity for that essential holiday photoshoot, before taking an afternoon stroll down Unter den Linden towards the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial in Ebertstrasse (U-Bahn Unter den Linden).
Where to eat and drink
The Brauhaus Lemke (Dircksentr., S-Bahnbogen 143; www.brauhaus-lemke.com/index.php?area=3) is situated beneath the railway arches at Hackescher Markt S-Bahn station. Don’t let that put you off though because its traditional German menu is fabulous. Largely pork based the portions are generous and the four kinds of beer - a dark ale, a Pilsner, a Weissbeer and a strong 7% lager - brewed on the premises are very quaffable. Complete with drinks our bill came to €60 for four.
The Xantener Ect Brauhaus (Xantener Strasse.1/ Brandenburgische Strasse; www.das-xantener-eck.de/index_en.html; nearest station Andenaur Platz) was conveniently located for our hotel. Founded in 1907 its outdoor tables are ideally placed for a bit of people watching down Brandenburgische Strasse. The menu is typically German with plenty of sausages, sauerkraut and schnitzel and there are twelve varieties of beer to be enjoyed, which we did. Our bill for the evening came to €93 which I thought wasn’t bad for four hungry people.
And finally legend has it that the doner kebab was invented in Berlin by the late Mahmut Aygun, who had the bright idea of stuffing kebab meat inside bread. Whether this is an urban legend or not, one of the best doner stands is Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap (23 Mehringdamm; www.mustafas.de) just by the exit ofMehringdamm U-Bahn Station. A delicious chicken doner complete with roast vegetables, feta cheese and sauce can be yours for just €2.90.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Agon Olivaer Apart Hotel(Konstanzer Straße 1, 10707 Berlin). A basic three-star hotel it was conveniently located close to Adenaurplatz U-Bahn station. Our stay included a substantial buffet breakfast all for around €50 a night.