Archive for May, 2011

So, I had, once again, a great time in Berlin. Good food, good company, interesting things to see and do. And I am sure most citizens and visitors find the city rewarding.

But the united city is still a city of contrasts. It is a city where you find discreet elegance and stark poverty. It is a city where you find lots of mouth-watering organic cafes and restaurants, even at the airports you find fresh and healthy food. At the same time every other person seems to smoke, it is like Scandinavia several decades ago.

And it is a city that is not in balance when it comes to intoxicants, be they legal or illegal. The tattooed and black clad youth living their hedonistic lifestyle are probably recruited from across Europe and beyond, but it seems like Berlin is a magnet.

A 7 in the morning, as the Slavic-sounding tramps line up at the steps of the supermarket to recycle bottles for deposits, the kebab shop serves breakfast to the last guests of the grim and industrial slab of concrete called a beer garden that has been open all night down by the rail road tracks.

The corner shops claim to sell Lebensmittel according to their signs, but it’s mostly booze. The drinking seems to start at the sidewalks mid-morning and then go on until you stagger off to sleep somewhere. The early evening trams are moveable parties.

I try not to be too grumpy, and it is largely up to people to decide for themselves how to live. At the same time it will not, in the long run, be healthy for a community like Friedrichschain to be dominated by a hard-drinking culture without any regard for tomorrow.

If you choose to stay in one of the flashier areas of town, you will not see this reality at all. But with an area with low rents and squats you cannot help reflecting over it.

I would certainly not want to raise kids in an area like that.

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Airports. Some of them have adjusted to modern times, and if the airlines let you check in beforehand and they don’t make a fuzz about your suitcase being a wee bit heavy, they can be all right. Some are wastelands for beer – Oslo is a prime example, some are pretty decent. Munich has a brewpub in the middle of the airport, Edinburgh ( among a number of UK airports) has Wetherspoons pubs both before and after security with several hand pumps with decent ales.

I have flown through Berlin a number of times over the last few years, always through Tegel airport. The shops after security there has a few canned beers, but nothing worth taking home.

There was a pleasant surprise in store when we arrived at Schönefeld airport for our flight back home. Security went smoothly, there was a lovely organic takeaway/café for sandwiches and snacks, there was a duty free with perfume and upmarket German wine.

And there were two kiosks with newspapers, sweets, tinned sauerkraut, over-priced souvernirs – and beer.  Beers from Bavaria, beers from Mecleburg-Vorpommern, beers from Berlin. A fridge full of beers from the outstanding Berlin micro Brewbaker. 3 liter bottles of bath beer from the Neuzeller Kloster-Bräu. 5  liter party kegs of Berliner Kindl Pils and Schwartzbier.

I’m sure the airlines hate it.

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Apost I forgot to publish – but hardly the most significant one from Berlin.

Just around the corner from the Hirsch pub is Ambrosius Bier Club, which have 3-4 beers contract brewed for them. I tried their Schwarzbier, which was a bit too sweet for my liking, but the prices are decent, the service is friendly and the locals don’t mind chatting to strangers.

Outside tables for warm weather, unpretentious.

I promise to pay a more lengthy visit next time.

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KaDeWe Kaufhof des Westens – a department store that used to be a temple of luxury goods in the heart of West Berlin. Sure, it is still a place for serious shopping if your credit card is up to it, I did not bother to explore in any detail, but they claim to be the largest department store on the European Continent. Think Harrods.

The top floors are dedicated to gastronomy, and there is surely something there to drool over, from grand display for fish and seafood to vintage wines going back for more than a century. Lots of small (and expensive) food bars as well as a buffet on the top floor.

And a beer department, too. Well stocked, but not dazzling. Belgian trappists, if you need them. Lots of German beers, most of them mainstream. Global lagers for tickers. And their own KaDeWe Pils, brewed by Berliner Kindl. No need to buy that, find a Kellerbier from a more obscure brewery instead.

The rule applies to this as to many other places: No need to make a detour for the beer. But if you are there, you are likely to find something interesting. Cold beers in the fridge if you suffer from shopping fatigue, too.

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Strolling around the streets near my hotel one morning, watching people on their way to work and school, I saw a sign for a bottle shop, a Getränkemarkt. I know that this type of shop is common in Germany, but I have not been to one before. I did not have any desperate need for more beer, as the box of Bavarian beers had arrived. Still, it is interesting to have a look.

The Getränke Hoffmann shares a parking lot with an Aldi shop, and it is clearly aimed at those who buy their beer in quantities. It is cheaper if you buy a crate, and most of the shop is dedicated to industrial pils in quantities. Soft drinks, wine and spirits, too.

But there are also a few imports and a fair selection of beers from smaller breweries. I purchased a few bottles from a display of seasonals, spring being the time for Osterbier and Maibocks, usually pale and strong. An Altenmünster Maibock from the Allgäuer Brauhaus was the best of them. It came in a lovely swing top bottle. Dark gold, fruity and with a liberal dose of aromatic hops. Grapefruit and grass in the tail. Right now it is on sale – 16 bottles for 12 Euros, according to their web site.

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Potsdam is more than castles and gardens. It is a university town and home to the parliament of the state of Brandenburg. And it has a splendid pedestrianised centre with small shops and cafes. The most charming part of that is the Dutch Quarter, which narrowly escaped the bulldozers in the final days of the DDR regime. Now it is restored to its former glory, and we headed there for dinner before returning to Berlin.

My beer radar steered me towards the Potsdamer Kulturcafe, an establishment rather strict in its approach to what to serve its customers. Well, the beers from Braumanufaktur had evidently passed the ecoløogical test. I knew of this local micro, but it was a bit out of the way, so I did not expect to be able to sample their brews on this occation.

Two beers in nice swing top bottles, a Hell and a Dunkel.

According to the label: Money alone does not bring happiness. Drink beer!

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Potsdam. Less than an hour by suburban train from Berlin. If you want a comparison, you could say this is the German Versailles, full of stately houses, parks and palaces. In nice weather, it is a perfect day out, if you want to really get into all the historical buildings, you should spend a week there.

We had hoped to be able to rent bikes just as in Berlin, but they did not have enough available when we arrived. The agents for vari0us bus tours were fairly aggressive, but we decided on the one that was most polite.

It is a fairly large place, so a bus ride with stops at the most important places is a good investement. If you are in a group, you can negotiate the price as well. If you are on a budget, you can use the local bus network with the day ticket you bought in Berlin.

I will not elaborate on the history of Potsdam, but it has seen its fair share of history from Prussian kings and German Emperors through WW2 and its aftermath and even a cold war period when the nicest part of town was walled off to make an exclusive area for Stasi and the Russians.

About halfway throug the bus ride, there is a stop near Cecilienhof Castle, the place where Truman, Stalin and Churchill met in August 1945. We decided that this was a fine place to have a break, with nice views of parkland and lakes on a beautiful spring day.

I did not push for getting off at this point. But I had done my homework, so I knew what was waiting down by the lake.

The Gasthausbrauerei Meierei im Neuen Garten was already busy. Their beer garden is right on the edge of the Jungfernesee lake, you can hardly imagine a more prime spot. During high summer, this must be filled to the brim. There is a self service part and another where you get table service. We opted for the first one, and I lined up in front of the kiosk where they were dispensing beer and food.

Freshly baked pretzels, too.

Three beers on tap. The Helles is a regular, with a fine flavour of cereals. A sublte bitterness. A refreshing beer, that you could keep on drinking through the afternoon.

The Rotbier was malty, sweet and sour with a fruity flavour. Redcurrants and apples, vith a long lingering aftertaste.

The Osterbier, the Easter beer, however, was not up to the satndard of the other two. Murky orange flavour, loads of sweet malt. Full of sugar, hardly any bitterness, felt like it was mixed with lemonade. Probably aimed at the Radler market – the Germans have an affinity for a beer/lemonade mix.

I could have stayed for a long time. There is even a boat service back to the city center. But that must be for another time.

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Cafe am Neuen See

Across the entrance to the Berlin Zoo, to the right of the railway station, there is a bike rental place. It gives a splendid opportunity to explore the Tiergarten park, which covers a large area, much of it crisscrossed with paths. It is also easy to cross into the central areas of the Mitte, the reborn central area. There is plenty of space for both bikes and walkers along the river Spree, and this gives great views of the new monumental buildings – the Central Station, the Prime Minister’s Office and the annexes to the Bundestag.

On your way back, there are two fine options. A large Biergarten, the Cafe am Neuen See, where you can even hire a boat to go exploring the lake. Or, almost back to the Zoo, the smaller Schleusenkrug, named after the locks of a canal connected to the Spree.

A Berliner Weisse would be appropriate. Low in alcohol, too, if you want to continue on your bike.



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