Tag Archives: Berlin

Berlin, Sausage and Michelin Stars

Berlin Towers

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”

That puts it on my list of things I don’t want to eat alongside liver, snails and tripe.

I Love Sausage Berlin

By way of comparison Berlin has no Michelin three star restaurants, London fares little better with only two but Paris has ten.  There is an explanation for this, Michelin is France based and has been described this way by the Guardian newspaper – “… the guide’s principal purpose is as a tool of Gallic cultural imperialism“.  I am not absolutely sure why I mention this, I have never once dined in a Michelin three star restaurant.

We took our time ordering food because any German menu conceals possibilities of unpleasant surprises and the threat of ordering and receiving something quite unexpected – almost as dangerous as trying to cross the Berlin Wall. So we stuck to sausage.  Kim 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 Kim had chips.  We shared our meals on a 50/50 basis.  We ate all of the chips but left a lot of the sauerkraut.

From Potsdamer Platz we walked through the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’, which is a controversial structure in terms of both concept and design – controversial mostly because no one really understands it.

The monument is composed of two thousand seven hundred and eleven rectangular concrete blocks laid out in a grid formation.  No explanations, no names and no dedications, a sort of graveyard full of stones without inscriptions.  I suppose it might be conceived as a memorial to lost people.

According to the architect the blocks are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly once orderly system that momentarily lost touch with human reason.

Berlin Holocaust Memorial

Several people have had a shot at trying to provide a more definitive explanation but I find none of them absolutely convincing. Personally I found the memorial rather bizarre and difficult to comprehend but I suppose it is a memorial to a period in history that is impossible to comprehend.  Perhaps then that is exactly the point of it, we look at it and wonder ‘how on earth did that happen?’

Several of the blocks are cracking open.  Concrete Cancer.  Appropriate I thought that the memorial should only be ultimately temporary – just like Nazi Germany.

To my mind a completely pointless memorial and a waste of valuable commercial urban space, much better to erect a vertical column and rent off the land and send the profits to the families who suffered because of the Holocaust.

From the Memorial it was just a short stroll to the Brandenburg Gate which is without doubt the most iconic symbol of Berlin.  I found it a rather underwhelming, I was expecting something like the the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (the largest in Europe, correct me if I am wrong) but I have to say that at only half the height it is nowhere near as impressive.  So we walked a while along the Unter den Linden, a wide leafy boulevard in Summer and one of the most famous streets in Berlin, in December Christmas lights replace the blossom and after a drink at a pavement café we returned to the gate passing the uneasy neighbours of the Russian and the American Embassy buildings.

On the walk back to Alexanderplatz we wandered through Museum Island, across a wide open park flanked with Museums and the City Cathedral.  Museum Island is another UNESCO World Heritage Sites but it was getting late so we didn’t have time to go inside any of the buildings and it was at this time that I thought to myself that I was so glad that I had returned to Berlin for a second visit and thought that surely I would have to return for a third.

I was born in 1954, less than ten years after World War Two had ended and grew up on stories about evil Germans.  Later that evening Kim tripped and badly sprained her ankle.  Back at the hotel staff and guests were kind and did everything they could to help.  I wondered why we had ever been in conflict with these people?  What a dreadful thirty years in European history!

Berlin Brandenburg Gate

Berlin, The Wall

Berlin Spies

“Nobody has the intention of building a wall.” GDR head of state Walter Ulbricht, East Berlin, June 15th 1961

For me, for everyone I suppose, some places can have a real impact when we visit them.  They leave an impression.  The Berlin Wall was one such place. History hangs in the air, so thick you can almost touch it, almost feel it, almost smell it. Other places that I have visited that have had similar impact for me are Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiegne in Northern France.

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, between the Allied and the Soviet Sectors.

Today I walked along a section of the wall, I ran my fingers across its harsh, hostile, concrete surface, I read the conflicting messages of anger and hope that it been scrawled across it, I was stunned by just how grotesquely ugly it was, I remembered all of the things that frightened me about the wall when I was a young boy.

Today as tourists we have our picture taken against a souvenir section of the wall, we smiled for the camera, fifty years ago people died trying to get across it and escape to the west, they didn’t smile.  I thought about that as this picture taken.

20191210_155051

The Berlin Wall divided the city from 1961 to 1989.  In the German Democratic Republic it was an offence to leave the country without permission. The border guards were duty bound at all time “to arrest or eliminate border violators”. The border regime was based on barriers and border guards at regular intervals and above all on the permitted use of firearms. The border guards who successfully stopped escapes were rewarded with a decoration and a bonus.

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!

Checkpoint Charlie

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.

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.

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.

Charlottenburg 05

So, for the first fifty years or so of my life it would simply never have crossed my radar to visit Germany until in 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.

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 Trabant

Berlin, Statues and The Greatest German

Berlin Reichstag

“Where some states have an army, the Prussian Army has a state.”  – Voltaire

After a few stops we left the train and walked through the Tiergarten.  This was once a Royal hunting forest but was cut down for firewood during the immediate post war period when fuel was in short supply and has now been replanted as a very fine public park.

Late afternoon and it was beginning to get dark.  The park is nice but a bit edgy with little gangs of dangerous looking men and we witnessed at least two dodgy transactions – drugs we imagined.  To be on the safe side we stayed on the well lit footpaths and didn’t risk the shadows of the woodland tracks.

Berlin was once the capital city of Prussia and then Germany after 1871.

Prussia had become a modern European State in 1701 and for the next one hundred and seventy years was at war with someone or another for a total of ninety years, or over half of its existence.  Not surprisingly Prussia was seen as a militaristic threat to the stability of Europe and so was abolished by the victorious allies in 1947.  This wasn’t especially difficult, two years earlier the Russian offensive in the Battle of Berlin had demolished and removed almost all Prussian heritage.  East Prussia was absorbed into a redefined Poland and the remainder became East Germany.

As a consequence Berlin has little history.  The entire city by necessity is modern, it has only been rebuilt over the last seventy-five years so is quite contemporary and lacks charm.  There are no grand palaces, cathedrals, stately homes or castles because they have all been swept away.  Even the trams are brand-spanking new.  A lot of central and eastern European cities continue to preserve fifty year old vehicles but not so in Berlin.

Berlin Brandenburg Gate

It is as though Germany doesn’t want to recognise its short and unhappy existence which after all has included a belligerent monarchy, an economic crisis, a failed republic and a totalitarian dictator.

Not really surprising then that Germany looks mostly to the future.  In 2003 in a television poll  German viewers bypassed Otto Von Bismarck (voting for Adolf Hitler was not allowed) and voted post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as the greatest German of all time. Hands up anyone who has heard of Konrad Adenauer?  It would be like voting Theresa May as the Greatest Briton. I mention this now just as a comparison, if you think Adenauer is an odd choice, in a similar poll in the USA they voted Ronald Reagan the Greatest American!

Back to Germany – Reformation monk Martin Luther came second, with communist philosopher Karl Marx third.

Another feature that I noticed that makes Berlin stand out against other grand European cities is that it has very few statues; it is that history thing again, Berlin can’t very well have statues of Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler because they were both responsible for unleashing hell in Europe. I understand that there is a statue of the greatest German, Konrad Adenauer but this is some way out of the city centre on the edge of Charlottenburg and we didn’t get to see it.  It seems that they are not so proud of him either.

Berlin Column of Victory

Midway along the Tiergarten we did eventually come across a famous monument, the Berlin Victory Column, commissioned in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and later dedicated also to victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.  Prussia did like going to war it seems. It is indeed a grand column that soars into the sky and at the very top stands a golden statue of the Roman God Victory.

Even though it was getting mid Winter late and the light was fading we paid the entrance fee and climbed the two hundred and thirty steps to the top and were rewarded with good views from the observation deck.

Nearby we found a statue of a man that I was expecting to find – Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of modern Germany who was responsible for the creation of the country in 1871 following the defeat of France in a short-sharp war – the sort of quick victory Germany expected again in 1914.  The sort of victory, it has to be said, that Great Britain also anticipated.  A grand statue but not on prominent display but instead tucked discreetly inside a corner of the Tiergarten adjacent to the Victory Column.

Berlin Otto Von Bismarck

In the USA there are Towns and cities called Bismarck in Arkansas, Illinois, Michegan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota (The State Capital*) and West Virginia.  As far as I am aware there are no towns or cities called Adenauer.

I would have really  expected Bismarck to have been voted the ‘Greatest German’ but it seems that for many he is too closely associated with establishing a Teutonic military regime based on Prussian aggression which led directly to two European villains, two World Wars and the biggest battleship ever in the German Navy and the largest in any European fleet in World-War-Two.

What a beast…

Battleship Bismarck

After walking the entire length of the Tiergarten we returned by a different path and made our way back to Alexanderplatz where we finished our ten mike walk (a distance we hadn’t really anticipated at breakfast) with a well earned beer and a glass of wine close to our hotel.

Berlin Hoff Hause

* Bismarck was named after the Prussian statesman in an attempt to attract German investors to the Northern Pacific Railroad, for which Bismarck served as terminus. While the bid for investors was unsuccessful, Otto sent the railroad an autographed note of acknowledgement.

A Look Back at 2019

After a slow start to the year we finally got started in…

April

12 Cornwall

Once a year I generally take a holiday in the UK with my daughter and grandchildren.  In previous years I have been to East Anglia, Yorkshire and Wales but on account of the distance never to Cornwall in the extreme South West.  An Australian motorist would no doubt consider four hundred miles to be a drive to the mini-market to get a loaf of bread but in England this is generally considered to be a long way and an arduous journey that requires rather a lot of meticulous planning

May

Valencia Spain

I like Valencia and this was my second visit, it is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and just ahead of Bilbao and Malaga and after we had got our bearings we set off to explore the heart of the old city and started first at a tapas bar in the “Plaza de la Vergen” in a gloriously sunny spot overlooking the east door of the Cathedral.

June

Berlin Spies

I had considered visiting Berlin several times over the last ten years, there are nearly always cheap flights available but for some reason I have never made it there.  I had often come very close to booking flights but then somewhere more appealing has nicked in ahead of the German capital at the last minute and I have made alternative plans.  Berlin would always have to wait.

This time I had no excuse not to go because I was invited to a gentlemen’s weekend away (ok, a stag party) so together with my brother Richard a party of boys several years younger than me, I left East Midlands Airport early one morning and two hours later was drinking beer at Schoenefeld Flughafen.

Madrid Postcard

According to official statistics, after London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona, Madrid is the fifth most visited city in Europe (in that order) but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Compared to London, Paris and Rome it only achieved capital status relatively recently, and there is no iconic building to define it, no Eiffel Tower, no Colosseum and no Westminster Abbey and no famous cathedral or castle either so I was curious about what we were likely to see.  Hemingway liked it so I was sure that I would too.

July

Skipsea Cornfield

School holidays mean visiting grandchildren so to save the house and garden from being trashed I booked a few days away in a holiday home (caravan) in a part of Yorkshire that I have so far never felt inclined to visit.  Tucked away in the south east of the county is a stretch of coastline between the city of Hull and the town of Bridlington and this was our destination.  A holiday park at Skipsea Sands

September

Algarve Postcard Map 3

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourites and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

In 2017 we travelled through Northern Portugal using the trains but this time we planned to go South where the railway network is difficult or practically non-existent, so this time we were driving.  Our plan was to visit the Algarve region and visit the towns and beaches of the south and west and then head inland to the historic towns of Beja, Evora, Estremoz and Elvas and also to spend a few days in Extremadura in Spain.

October

Corfu Map

I have been to the Greek Island of Corfu several times, I have stayed at the village of Kalami several times but this didn’t stop me going again and we travelled on this occasion with our good friends Mike and Margaret.

I first visited Corfu thirty-five years previously and spent a couple of days driving around the island and secretively I had a plan to do so again this time and see what changes there have been over the years.

December

Berlin Hoff Hause

I visited Berlin six months ago and came away disappointed.  After a short period of reflection I came to the conclusion that this was an unfair assessment, I was on a stag party weekend and it is difficult to fully appreciate a city when you only see it through the bottom of a beer glass.  This time I liked it a whole lot better – I was right to go back.

All in all, a very good year!

Berlin, A Pledge to Return

I may have been a bit negative about Berlin so I have booked return flight tickets for December.  I have conceded that I may not have been in the right frame of mind to appreciate the city as this visit was a boozy stag weekend.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Berlin, In Search of History

Berlin Brandenburg Gate Statue

From Potsdamer Platz we walked through the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’, which is a controversial structure in terms of both concept and design –  controversial mostly because no one really understands it.

The monument is composed of two thousand seven hundred and eleven rectangular concrete blocks laid out in a grid formation.  No explanations, no names and no dedications, a sort of graveyard full of stones without inscriptions.  I suppose it might be conceived as a memorial to lost people.

According to the architect the blocks are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly once orderly system that momentarily lost touch with human reason.

Several people have had a shot at trying to provide a more definitive explanation but I find none of them absolutely convincing. Personally I found the memorial rather bizarre and difficult to comprehend but I suppose it is a memorial to a period in history that is impossible to comprehend.  Perhaps then that is exactly the point of it, we look at it and wonder ‘how on earth did that happen?’

Berlin Jewish Memorial

To my mind a completely pointless memorial and a waste of valuable commercial urban space, much better to erect a vertical column and rent off the land and send the profits to the families who suffered because of the Holocaust.

From the Memorial it was just a short stroll to the Brandenburg Gate which is without doubt the most iconic symbol of Berlin.  I found it a rather underwhelming, I was expecting something like the the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but I have to say that at only half the height it is nowhere near as impressive.  So we walked a while along the Unter den Linden, a wide leafy boulevard and one of the most famous streets in Berlin and after a drink at a pavement café returned to the gate passing the uneasy neighbours of the Russian and the American Embassy buildings and crossed a busy road into Berlin’s premier park and green space, The Tiergarten.

Berlin Brandenburg Gate

I confess that by this time that I was becoming disappointed with Berlin and I suddenly realised why this was.  Berlin has no history.  The entire city by necessity is modern, it has only been rebuilt over the last seventy-five years so is quite contemporary and lacks charm.  There are no grand palaces, cathedrals, stately homes or castles because they have all been swept away.  Even the trams are brand-spanking new.  A lot of central and eastern European cities continue to preserve fifty year old vehicles but not so in Berlin.

It is as though Germany doesn’t want to recognise its short and unhappy history which after all has included a belligerent monarchy, a failed republic and a totalitarian dictator.  Not really surprising then that Germany looks mostly to the future.  In 2003 in a television poll  German viewers bypassed Otto Von Bismarck and voted post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as the greatest German of all time. Hands up anyone who has heard of Konrad Adenauer?  It would be like voting John major as the Greatest Briton. Reformation Monk Martin Luther came second, with communist philosopher Karl Marx third.

So we walked now past the Reichstag which is perhaps the grandest building in all of Berlin and then  west through the Tiergarten which was once a forest but it was cut down for firewood during the immediate post war period and has now been replanted as a very fine public park.

Another feature that I noticed that makes Berlin stand out against other grand European cities is that it has very few statues; it is that history thing again, Berlin can’t very well have statues of Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler because they were both responsible for unleashing hell in Europe. I understand that there is a statue of the greatest German, Konrad Adenauer but this is some way out of the city centre and we didn’t get to see it.  It seems that they are not so proud of him either.

Berlin Column of Victory

Midway along the Tiergarten we did eventually come across a famous monument, the Berlin Victory Column, commissioned in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and later dedicated also to victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.  It is indeed a grand column that soars into the sky and at the very top stands a golden statue of the Roman God Victory.

Nearby we found a statue of a man that I was expecting to find – Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of modern Germany who was responsible for the creation of the country in 1871 following the defeat of France in a short-sharp war, the sort of quick victory Germany expected again in 1914.  The sort of victory, it has to be said, that Great Britain also anticipated.  A grand statue but not on prominent display but instead tucked discreetly inside a corner of the Tiergarten adjacent to the Victory Column.

Berlin Bismarck Statue

I would have really  expected Bismarck to have been voted the ‘Greatest German’ but it seems that for many he is too closely associated with establishing a Teutonic military regime based on Prussian aggression which led directly to two European villains, two World Wars and the biggest battleship ever in the German Navy.

After walking the entire length of the Tiergarten we returned by a different path and made our way back to Alexanderplatz where we finished our thirteen mike walk with a well earned beer close to our hotel.

Even after all that walking Richard still had the strength to fetch the beers…

I like drinking beer

Berlin, Living Behind A Wall

006

“Nobody has the intention of building a wall.” GDR head of state Walter Ulbricht, East Berlin, June 15th 1961

For me, for everyone I suppose, some places can have a real impact when we visit them. The Berlin Wall was one such place. History hangs in the air, so thick you can almost touch it, almost feel it, almost smell it. Other places that I have visited that have had similar impact for me are Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiegne in Northern France.

Today I walked along a section of the wall, I ran my fingers across its harsh, hostile, concrete surface, I read the conflicting messages of anger and hope that it been scrawled across it, I was stunned by just how grotesquely ugly it was, I remembered all of the things that frightened me about the wall when I was a young boy.

Today as tourists we have our picture taken against a souvenir section of the wall, we smiled for the camera, fifty years ago people died trying to get across it and escape to the west, they didn’t smile.  I thought about that as we had this picture taken.

Berlin Wall 04

The Berlin Wall divided the city from 1961 to 1989.  In the German Democratic Republic it was an offence to leave the country without permission. The border guards were duty bound at all time “to arrest or eliminate border violators. The border regime was based on barriers and border guards at regular intervals and above all on the permitted use of firearms. The border guards who successfully stopped escapes were rewarded with a decoration and a bonus.

Berlin Wall 01The Wall explained

This extract is taken from one of the information boards…

Between the construction and removal of the wall, in twenty-eight years approximately forty-thousand East Germans managed to escape to the west. Several hundred were shot dead by border guards or suffered fatal accidents whilst trying to do so.

At least one hundred and forty people died whist trying to cross the Berlin Wall. One hundred and one were either gunned down, had an accident or committed suicide. Thirty one people from both sides of the wall who were simply curious and had no intention of crossing were also shot dead. Two hundred and fifty one died whilst being controlled at the border crossings and untold numbers died from grief and despair as an indirect consequence of the wall and the impact that it had on their lives.

I couldn’t help wondering what I would have done.  I almost certainly wouldn’t have been brave enough to try and escape so I guess that that like thousands of others I would have accepted life under a secretive and brutal totalitarian regime.  Most likely I would have shot my mouth off and found myself in prison.

Perhaps Donald Trump should visit the site and see for himself the dreadful consequences of building a wall to separate people.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…