Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and Sausages

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie was an obvious place to visit and every other visitor to Berlin agreed with us because this is probably the most visited attraction in the city.  It is the most famous of the fourteen previously controlled crossing points between East and West Berlin.

There is no checkpoint there anymore of course just a reconstruction and men in menacing uniforms providing a photo opportunity.  It amused me that the Berlin Wall was constructed to keep out the west but at the site today is one of the most aggressive symbols of western capitalism – a McDonalds restaurant.  Walter Ulbricht is probably still spinning in his grave!

I was seven years old when the German Democratic Republic began building the wall and it was barely out of the news headlines throughout the 1960s; subjugated people trying to escape, the unlucky ones being gunned down in cold blood, the menacing stare of the border guards, the impenetrable and secretive Soviet Empire.  Berlin was where East and West stood toe to toe, where the West stood firm against further Soviet expansion in Europe and where the East tried to annex the whole of Berlin by starving out the West.

Donald Trump would have been proud of a wall like this.

005

If World War Two and the Nazis fashioned our vision of Germany and the Germans then the Wall was something that shaped our opinions of the post war East and the Soviet domination and I spent my childhood with a morbid fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the end of the world.  This was the golden age of espionage and spies, John John le Carré and Ian Fleming.

Berlin Spies

For me this was the best moment of all in Berlin, around the site are informative displays and photographs which made me stop and think.  I was born within ten years of the end of the most appalling and destructive war in Europe, in the World, and grew up seeing the Germans as natural foes.  I soaked up my Dad’s stories of the War and read the Victor comic. When England won the Football World Cup in 1966 it was a champagne moment to beat West Germany and even in the 1970s I still carried with me my irrational dislike for sun-bed thieving Germans when on holiday in Europe.

I was forty-five when the wall came down, Germany was reunited and Europe gave a collective sigh of relief.

So, for the first fifty years or so of my life it would simply never have crossed my radar to visit Germany until 2007 when cheap Ryanair flights to Friedrichshafen and Lake Constance persuaded me that I should go there and give it a chance and it turned out to be a personal pivotal moment when I discovered Germany to be relaxed, refined and cultured and I was glad of that and to have my national prejudices so quickly readjusted.

Berlin Wall 04

Close by to Checkpoint Charlie is one of the last remaining sections of the wall that remains intact and another series of information boards chronicling the years through the time of the Weimer Republic, the rise of Nazism, the War and the Wall.  I had imagined that this period of history might be somewhat suppressed in Berlin, it is after all nothing to be proud of. But this is not so.  It makes no excuses or apologies but sets out the history in a matter-of-fact and sensitive way.  I was impressed.

Berlin Wall 03

It was close to lunchtime now so we set out to find somewhere suitable to eat and made our way from the wall to Potsdamer Platz, the modern centre of new Berlin but I found it too modern for my tastes, with glitzy buildings made of glass and steel, expensive shopping malls and restaurants with menu prices way above my modest budget.

We were looking for a simple pavement bar with a lunch time menu but found it surprisingly difficult to find one.  I imagined Berlin to be overflowing with pavement bars serving steins of foaming beer and inexpensive hearty meals but this was not the case.

Eventually we found somewhere, ordered beer and scrutinised the menu.  It has to be said that the Germans eat a lot of rubbish food!  Ninety percent of the menu consisted of various forms of sausage and unless you want sauerkraut then vegetables are completely absent.

Thanks to Wiki here for an explanation of sauerkraut – “finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a distinctive sour flavor, acid formed when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage leaves”

We took our time ordering food because any German menu conceals distinct possibilities of nasty surprises and the threat of ordering and receiving something quite unexpected – almost as dangerous as trying to cross the Berlin Wall frontier. So we stuck to sausage.  Richard had a trio and I had meat balls which are really just sausage in a ball rather than its traditional long form.  I had sauerkraut and Richard had chips.  We shared our meals on a 50/50 basis.  We left a lot of the sauerkraut.

I Love Sausage Berlin

49 responses to “Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and Sausages

  1. Can’t stand German sausage, no wonder it’s never going to get anywhere near my radar as a country to visit, a bit like Russia really.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I go there on business only and locals take me out to eat Italian lol!

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  3. Just got back from a trip to Lake Konstanz and being well fed on salad and fresh asparagus. Ate so much of the stuff I should now be thin and pale green. Love sauerkraut, it’s good for the gut like all fermented foods.

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  4. Until the fall of the Soviet Union, a huge amount of money was wasted on the Cold War. It’s a pity that we couldn’t have found more imaginative ways of co-existing than armed to the teeth. In my limited experience, incidentally, German food is superb compared to Russian, some of which was barely recognisable as food.

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  5. I was raised on sauerkraut and it is my comfort food. My German parents made their own. Although I realize it´s not to everyone’s taste. I would love to visit Berlin one day. Apparently, the museums are very good.

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  6. A profound and honest piece, Andrew. Maybe my being that much older contributes to my not wishing to go there.

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  7. Like you, the wall was part of our youth and history lessons. I loved the museums there- absolutely fascinating. Especially the one about the wall itself. If you are interested in the stories of that time, can I recommend to you a book by Anna Funder called Stasiland? It is a great read for an insight into the lives of those citizens.

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  8. You finally made it to Berlin 🙂 I guess the McD at Check Point Charlie is actually in the American Sector and East Berlin started on the other side of the road so it is build on the home turf of the Americans.

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  9. Another interesting post. Thank you

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  10. I tried to make sauerkraut once.. not tasty at all.. 😉

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  11. We first went to Berlin in the 90s when Potsdamerplatz was largely a building site. I was astonished by it in 2012, but not necessarily in a good way. I didn’t like it either. I preferred the older districts and we did find good places to eat – I was surprised how well I did (as a veggie) given the general meatiness of German cuisine.

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  12. Sauerkraut, as you no doubt know being from the North of England James Cook territory, It was carried by Cook aboard the Endeavour and also on his later voyages. He made sure that all his men ate a ration of the stuff everyday, to ward off scurvy. Back then Admiralty expected and manned their ships with the expectancy of losing over 30%(if memory serves me) of the ships company thru scurvy. Cook never lost one man through scurvy.
    Had Monty been Supreme Commander the Russians would not have got Berlin. We would have.

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  13. Meatballs- sausages without the skin 🙂 🙂 I’m sure you won’t be having them for birthday supper. Enjoy!

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  14. I love Germany but I agree with you about the traditional German cuisine not using many vegetables. We’ve visited most parts of the country and found the people just as you have – relaxed, friendly and cultured for the most part.

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  15. Germany is a beautiful country . . . but on my 1995 visit, I was less-than-impressed with the food and even less so with the people. It would take some doing to have me visit again . . . like, so much doing that I can’t imagine it happening. Especially since I’d have to convince my wife and that would take some additional doing.

    Mind you, I harbor no hatred or dislike but if I’m heading across the pond, there are many other places I would visit. No, wait . . . there are few places I would visit and Germany is not one of them.

    Apparently, it’s a different matter if you know someone in Germany. I wouldn’t know first hand, but I assume that’s the case in most places (France, Liechtenstein, England, Gibraltar, Vatican City) just because you’re then an honorary part of the tribe.

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  16. I read your next post first, and misunderstood your reference to childhood. You were in fear of the wall from afar then, and did not see the border in place while it was still active?

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  17. Reblogged this on THE FLENSBURG FILES and commented:
    When we covered yesterday’s post on Hirschberg on the Bavarian-Thuringian border, we provided you with a link to the photos of the former border (crossings) before and after 1989. This blog focuses on the Berlin Wall in general, from a tourist’s point of view. Here’s a sample of the stories you will find on this blog, focusing on Checkpoint Charlie in the heart of Berlin. Enjoy! 🙂

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  18. Pingback: Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and Sausages — Have Bag, Will Travel – BURT BRECHT

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