Berlin in 2005 was… no place for lovers…

Berlin Trip 4th – 7th March 2005

Popped to Berlin for a weekend with Mairi and her parents. Haven’t been to Germany for a long time – last time was in the late 1990’s! We flew with Easyjet. Yeah, I know. It was a foolish mistake, as 4 hours sitting in the Departure Lounge at Luton Airport told us. It should be called the Departure Shithole.

An uneventful flight on a 737-700 (my personal favourite) took us to the glorious Schoenefeld. No hassle at the airport – I’m always faintly disappointed that German customs officials don’t ask for your “Papers!” rather than your passport. Then out into the snowy evening chill. “Taxi! Pale yellow Mercedes taxi!”.

After a quick check-in at the hotel, we strode out to find somewhere to eat – somewhere without meat in every dish in the menu. This is a rarity on the continent, and a problem we have every time we go. We tried a nice-looking place called ‘Bovril’, but when asked they said they had nothing at all vegetarian – should have guessed from the name really. But they recommended we try around the corner in a place called Keno’s, which proved to be very nice. Italian, pasta, pizza, wine, cocktails, and cigars – on the menu at least. To help my entrecote go down, there was live music in the shape of a girl in evening dress, belting out Simply The Best. Accompanying her was a guy on baby grand piano, with a synth and drum machine sat on top. Shouldn’t moan really – it’s nice to be entertained – but at one stage the guy used a voice changer to sing a Louis Armstrong number. I always find it weird how foreign singers are able to sing in an American accent, while having a very strong accent when speaking English. “Sank you ferry march!”

After dinner, we had a quick beer in QBA, which is basically the same as Cubana in Waterloo. Stucco walls (an excuse for poor plastering if you ask me) pictures of Che, maybe a hammer and sickle here and there. A glass or two of Jever, then time to hit the hay.

Our hotel, the Agon Opera, was themed roughly with each room named after a musical show – ours was The Rocky Horror Show, which I hate, but as it turned out, the theme simply ran to a photo from the show as performed in the theatre round the corner. No recreations of Tim Curry‘s lab, no set pieces with Christopher Biggins, no tedious people in fishnets. Just a simple, impeccably turned out room, with a cool electronic safe for hiding your passports, tickets, cash and plans of the lastest Soviet submarine. Before going to bed, we struggled to find a way to turn the heating off – in the end I tried opening the window a fraction – there was a flurry of snow.

Mmm, breakfast. While always good in Germany, this was great. Cereals, breads, meats, cheeses, jams, yoghurts, juices, eggs, and more coffee than you could eat. I stuffed myself, and didn’t want lunch, or indeed to move. It was nice just sitting in the rooftop breakfast room, under glass, watching the Saturday morning traffic.

The hotel was very nice with friendly and very helpful staff. It was supposedly in the middle of the best shopping area, but Mairi and I were disappointed to find it all rather too good for the likes of us. Mercedes and BMW showrooms rubbing shoulders with Yves Saint Laurent and (ahem) Burberry. We did go in C&A for old times sake, but were disappointed to find they don’t have the ‘Clockhouse’ section any more.

We made a trip to KaDeWe, the department store, which was in the middle of a Marlene Dietrich exhibition, with a selection of her clothes. A highlight for me was a huge packing case, which opened to reveal lots of little drawers for shoes, each labelled with, “Blue Strappy”, “Stiletto black” etc. That’s organisation! Alongside that were various silly hats, and the industrial eyebrow pluckers she used in Shanghai Express. The rest of the store had all sorts of posh stuff. Huge fur and leather section – very continental. For lunch, we popped into the immense food hall to have a sniff round, buy me some sausages, and have a coffee and a cake at the bar. I nearly bought Mairi an onion tart, until I asked on the offchance if it had any meat in it. “Of course” was the answer. I should have known (see veggie posts passim). Why wasn’t it on the label? I suppose it saves time, printing and ink, because after all, everything in Germany has Schinken in it – the omelettes, the cakes, the tea. The food hall rivalled Harrods, although it was less ornate – sausages from all over the world, in lots of mini-departments, North Germany, Bavaria, Austria, Spain etc. Tonnes of cheeses, including many that would fell an ox at fifty paces.

Once again the guide books proved to be shite (a common problem). One referred to something called ‘Deutschmarks’, despite being bought in 2004, and the TimeOut website, surely supposedly more up-to-date than printed media, told us about a cafe with the best torte around, which had closed months earlier.

The weather was interesting – it was freezing. Literally. Snow, ice, the whole schtick. Biting wind discouraging all but the shortest walks. In the end we said ‘sod it’ and got taxis everywhere. The U-Bahn was OK, if you could figure out which line you were on. Not a patch on ours though.

Monday morning, a taxi to the Jewish Museum, with it’s excellent exhibition. Hundreds of personal artifacts showing how a person’s life became defined by the Holocaust. There was an 87-year-old woman, full, nearly complete life, children, grandchildren and so on. Then she ended up as a statistic in the Nazi genocide. Except she didn’t. The exhibition is always very clear that a person was, “taken to Auschwitz and murdered”, rather than, “they died in Auschwitz”. A crucial distinction, and the pressure of this fact builds up as you pass through the Museum. However, It’s not just a museum about the Holocaust, but about Jewish life in Germany as a whole. Fighting in the WWI trenches alongside the Germans, culture, family, food, religion. Well worth a visit. The architecture alone is fascinating – Daniel Liebeskind‘s angles, zinc and cold concrete making certain areas deliberately uncomfortable, especially the dark tower with a single shaft of daylight creeping in from the top corner.

Before heading home, we popped into a Kaffeehaus for lunch, Peasant’s Omelette, with ham, potato, cheese. Yum. Followed by not-so-peasants posh cake. Stuffed again.

I must go to Germany more often. After all, it’s the only other language I (kind of) speak, so I really should take advantage. Vielleicht spaeter. Tschuess!