Another tick in the Wall...
Last Updated : 12/01/09
Scooping in Berlin, November 2005.
or some reason unknown to me a pattern seemed to be forming in our November travels; the previous year we’d taken the pilgrimage to the beer Mecca of Bamberg to scoop the rateable Rauchbiers and now it looked like we’d be doing Berlin in 2005. Not that I was complaining, of course, but it seemed as though a pattern was forming and I was powerless to prevent it.
It was the middle of summer and we were on our enforced break from weekends away due to our intense loathing of queues - and airports in general - in the summer months when all the “once a year” brigade descend on usually quiet regional airports and cause chaos. I was, however, still busy actually booking holidays rather than enjoying being at the places themselves and it was going very well – I’d already secured flights to Geneva in September and Budapest in October, both for the usual £40-ish price, and I was now looking with some anticipation at November. I had several options open but they steadily slipped away due to weather (Poland is very cold in winter…) or price until the only real choice left was Berlin.
I was secretly pleased about this as Berlin was another of the European “hot-spots” with over ten brewpubs available for scooping as well as other beers and, in addition, a whole load of history and things non-beery to look at. So, Berlin it was, and I laughed like Sideshow Bob (from the Simpsons, you know, the one with the huge hair) when I discovered we could fly out to Schönefeld with Ryanair and back from Tegel with Air Berlin - well, scooping both airports seemed too good an opportunity to turn down - for the grand total of £39 each! Ten minutes later the flights were booked and so was the hotel, another massive bargain at €40 a night for a 3-star room out east in an upmarket version of an Ibis. All we had to do now was wait 5 months…
Saturday 19th November 2005.
Five months later…
Just in time, two days before we left, I received an email from Chris Fudge who had just returned from Berlin; this life-saving email contained addresses and, more importantly, directions to the 13 brewpubs in the city and a list of all the beers he’d had the week before. This was a lifeline as I’d not had time to do nearly as much research as I’d have liked and only had lists of brewpubs and addresses – and it turned out that some of those had closed! Armed with this up-to-date gen and some more I’d hurriedly cobbled together we were all set for a mammoth expedition of scooping in one of our favourite beer-drinking countries; the only question was whether the food could possibly be as good as that in Köln and could the beer be as good as Franconia?
Our flight out was at the ludicrous hour of 06:35 so, a few days later, we were waiting for the bus at our spiritual home, Stansted airport, at four in the morning wondering why we did this to ourselves in the name of exploration. I shan’t bore you with the minutiae of the A14 but suffice it to say it’s still as mundane and crammed with speed cameras as the last time we drove it back in June; “was it really that long ago?” I wondered to myself at one particularly tedious point in the journey around Kettering (which itself isn’t particularly interesting it must be pointed out), “it seems like bloody yesterday!” They say familiarity breeds contempt – well, between me and the A14 it does!
We were soon in the terminal which was strangely busy for 04:15 in the morning – is Stansted ever quiet? – and, after a brief flap where our flight wasn’t allocated a gate until well after 05:00, we were quickly checked in and through the shiny new security gates. I’d just discovered that I’d left my woolly hat in the car, much to my chagrin, so even contemplated buying a hat from a scummy multinational company (Nike if you want to know, although the hat did have a tick on it!) – until I saw it was £8! “I’d rather have a cold head!” I grumbled and that was that.
Strangely for Riotscare we had the luxury of a transit to one of the proper terminals (yes, with escalators and all!) before we boarded the customary 737-800 - a dud one yet again - on-time. The flight duration was just under two hours although due to the murk blanketing Europe we didn’t see a fat lot as we winged our way eastwards across the continent. On the ground we were treated to a display of, presumably, “pilot error” when we went the wrong way down a taxiway and the brakes were hastily applied, and we then spotted a fox trotting across the grass between runway and terminal. We were on-stand ten minutes early and as we walked towards the immigration desks we passed lines of Eastern-European aircraft, Tupolevs and the like, which showed that Schönefeld’s main use was as a gateway to travellers from the East and it’s only recently the cheap UK airlines have taken up residence here as now it’s being enlarged and rebadged as “Berlin Brandenburg airport”.
An early exposure to history.
Immigration wasn’t as bad as it might have been although, as usual, we were stuck in the wrong queue behind some dodgy geezer and were among the last through – a situation mitigated by us not having to stand around for hours waiting for the hold luggage to appear as we were self-contained, as usual, with our capacious hand-baggage. After getting some Euros from a very well-mannered ATM (I know, that experience in Estonia has mentally scarred me for ever!) we set off along the covered walkway towards the S-Bahn station, stopping to admire an old S-Bahn carriage now in use as a wurst stand (unfortunately closed) and a whole fleet of amusing beige taxis; Berlin was looking good already!
At the station, we joined a queue for the sole ticket machine to purchase our passes; I’d done extensive research on Berlin transport’s website and concluded that we needed a seven-day zone A&B ticket as that would cover us for all the pubs we needed to visit (zone C is Brandenburg, where there are more brewpubs, but I’d figured we wouldn’t have time to scoop them in too!). There were some railways staff on-hand by the machines to help stupid foreigners so, after quickly confirming the best ticket, we were soon in possession of some top validity (a “7-tage-karte”) which had only cost €25.40 each – around £3.50 a day – not a bad deal considering the amount of moves we’d be doing.
Up on the platform we found another ticket machine, worth remembering for next time, and were soon ensconced on the first S9 train bound for the city centre (beware, S45 doesn’t go to the centre but clockwise around the “ring”) which soon departed. We clattered through the suburbs for a while, trying to work out what to do first; it was only 11:00, surely too early to begin drinking? As we were passing through Berlin Ostbahnhof I decided we could do a lot worse than go for a look at the longest stretch of wall left – the East-side gallery – so named as, in 1990, artists painted the hated structure with art, good and bad, creating a mile-long canvas and preserving it for the future; almost all the rest of the wall has been destroyed, only 1,500m remains and 1,300m of that are here!
On leaving the train, however, the Neanderthal shouts of football fans was filling the air above the noise of the trains so we made a quick exit, avoiding the crowds of skinheads and armed police, until we were far enough away to sort our bags out; that wasn’t the start I’d been hoping for to our trip! After a few seconds I had my bearings; I’d been here before in 1991, on my inter-rail, and had been fascinated by the wall and swore one day I’d go back. Now, standing outside the same station 14 years on, I couldn’t believe how quickly time had flown by; had it really been 14 years since I’d been here during that long hot summer of 91, then just beginning my beer scooping career and having hardly travelled at all? The passage of time is scary when you think too deeply about it.
Seeming like only a few years since I’d last been there we crossed the busy road and stood in front of the Berlin Wall. I know most people have seen it on TV and may even think they own a piece of it (apparently, most “wall” sold to tourists isn’t wall at all – at least not this wall, as the remaining pieces are a national monument and therefore preserved) but to see the actual structure itself is quite an experience; it brings home to you that history isn’t just something that happened hundreds of years ago to kings and rich blokes, but it happened to ordinary people just 15 years ago and it’s still happening today – one day tourists will be staring open-mouthed at the Israeli “separation barrier” after it’s ceased to be a relevant border and it’s painted with art…
We walked along the majority of the wall, seeing some very good art as well as some very dodgy stuff, before retracing our steps to the station. I had been looking forward to seeing the famous “Trabant coming through the wall” by Birgit Kinder again as this had been my favourite section in 1991, but some thoughtful person had kindly sprayed graffiti all over it – well thanks a lot, you brainless prick – so we returned to the station, now thankfully skinhead-free, and were soon on the next S-Bahn towards Alexanderplatz and the centre of the old East Germany.
Back in the DDR.
We passed through Alexanderplatz, the hub of the old east German city, with the second-highest structure in Europe (the Eiffel tower is the tallest and we know; we’ve seen it from 41,000 feet up in a 737!), the 365-metre TV tower (Fernsehturm), looming over the ex-DDR Parliament and other buildings which we’d be visiting later, there being four brewpubs nearby. We alighted at Freidrichstraße with the aim of walking to the Reichstag and Brandenburg gate and were delighted to see that the station mirrored that in Leipzig with big arcades of shops and food outlets underneath the track level, but we were totally unprepared for what we found at the western end of the station – a shop selling wares from a company that makes chocolate that actually tastes like cocoa – Lindt!
Sue is a closet Lindt-scooper (and I suppose I am too) so we were in the door like two ferrets after a rabbit and salivating over the racks and racks laden with chocolicious delights wishing we’d brought a trolley to carry all this unexpected booty! Somehow we restrained ourselves with promises of visiting each day and selected just a few scoops to take with us, all winners of course, and headed out of the shop before we caught chocolate fever… this place was an unexpected bonus! Just across the arcade was a “fish and chip” shop which also sold four draught beers so, naturally, I had a look inside and was withered to discover they were Hofbräu Weizen, Berliner Kindl Schwarzbier and two less distinguished brews; here was somewhere to come back to later in the visit! There was also a stall selling glasses of German wine to tick but we decided against scooping them in this early in the day; big mistake, we never saw it again…
Amazed by the quality produce on sale at Freidrichstraße, and already beginning to like Berlin, we headed off to view the Reichstag, or German Parliament. We followed the river Spree, crossing the path of the wall, and did a circuit of the Parliament building with it’s tastelessly out-of-place new glass roof. It’s certainly an impressive building, but not impressive enough that I’d stand in a big fuck-off queue in the freezing cold for hours for the honour of being allowed to troupe around inside it, although this didn’t seem to bother the clones doing exactly that! We wandered through to the Brandenburg gate (which we’d have a better look at later) before trying to take a U-Bahn to Potsdamer platz for a look at the new bastion of Capitalism.
I say “try” because the U2 seemed to be closed for engineering work with replacement buses running which give the impression of being determined to prevent us from actually visiting Potsdamer Platz; we eventually found a bus stop, boarded a bus, were evicted as it was terminating, boarded another, were taken in a big circle and ended up, 20 minutes later, exactly where we’d started from! On the way round we’d seen the vast Sony centre, where Lindenbräu was located, as well as a huge ski slope (with real ice!) constructed on scaffolding in Potsdamer Platz. We decided to abandon getting off there as a bad joke and instead head for the hotel and dump the bags so, eventually, we arrived back at Freidrichstraße S-Bahn station and connected with a train back eastwards to Alexanderplatz for a U-Bahn onwards to our hotel.
Before we did the U-Bahn, however, I was determined to feed my wurst addiction so we had a quick look outside the station where I was once again withered, but this time it wasn’t a shop it was a mobile wurst stand – but not your usual type of stand, this one was a bloke carrying a griddle and dispensing bratwurst for €1! Unable to resist this highly amusing sausage dispensing method I quickly purchased one and, my addiction sated, munched away on it as we rode the escalators down to the U5 platforms; the city centre of the DDR was certainly shaping up to be an area with everything we might possibly want… except Nargis kebabs, but it was still early days yet…
Welcome, Herr Prescott.
We only waited a few minutes before the first U5 arrived and took the shiny bright yellow plastic train five stops eastwards to Samariterstraße where the Mercure Berlin Ost was located. I knew the hotel was part of the Accor group so it should be fairly good, but until now I’d not really appreciated how close to the hub of Berlin it actually was; ten minutes on a tube train (with a service that runs all night at weekends and almost that in the week) to where it’s all happening was a stroke of luck on my part! I wasn’t sure what the locality would be like but surely it couldn’t be too bad… or could it? Paying only €40 a night did seem too good to be true!
A wave of relief swept over me as we climbed the stairs to the road above; the area looked perfectly normal and not at all dodgy. We soon located the hotel, situated 100 metres away from the station on Frankfurter Allee, with a decent-looking bakery conveniently located between the two – that was breakfast sorted then! The Mercure was part of what looked like a new development called “Plaza Passagen” which including a supermarket, the aforementioned hotel, various shops and some restaurants in the inner courtyard. It looked a bit posh for us, especially for the price, but I had a reservation in the bag so we were sorted! Before checking in, nevertheless, a visit to the supermarket was required and I was expecting a ruck of winning beers for the big orange book!
There’s a supermarket at the end of Voigtstraße to the rear of the Plaza Passagen development so in we went, but my dreams of crates stacked high with winners wasn’t to be; all that was available seemed to be “big brands” and a few local beers such as Berliner Kindl pils. A bit gutted, we bought a few scoops for the ridiculous sum of around 30p each and headed back to the hotel to sort ourselves out. As we walked back along the road, however, one of those magical moments decided to happen – it began to snow! As the big white flakes drifted down onto us and swirled around the street it seemed as though it were a sign everything would be fine on the trip so, enjoying the sudden change in the weather, we checked into the hotel where we were billeted on the 6th floor. We took the very scary glass lift, which travels outside the building looking over the inner concourse, to the top floor and found the room to be a modern, spacious, excellent base for the following four nights of scooping and an absolute bargain at the price.
Happy with our lot, we explored the room and were absolutely finished when we switched on the TV – the usual welcome message was in German and declared “Welcome, Herr Prescott”! in a very Teutonic-sounding manner. This had us in fits of laughter for a good ten minutes until the novelty wore off and I decided to pay a visit to the little shop over the road in Voigtstraße in the vain hope they’d have some “room beers” for us; this concept has been developed during our many trips away and, basically, means amassing a stock of scoops to drink in the room when we return from a day’s ticking – if we can be arsed to drink when we get back to the room after a crateload of scoops during the day! It’s also insurance in case we don’t find any winners although Berlin sounded like we’d not need any insurance against that with over ten brewpubs!
Cave a la Biere.
Even with the choice of two shops on Voigtstraße I didn’t have much hope of accruing a stash of scoops - both were small general stores with Chinese ladies behind the counter – but I took the plunge and entered the nearest one (badged as a “Schnell Mini-Markt) with a healthy amount of scepticism; could a shop out in the suburbs like this have anything worth drinking, I asked myself? As I entered the shop my eyes were drawn to a room at the back which seemed to be full of bottles of water but, as I got closer, I saw what the room’s raison d’être really was – a beer cellar! It was stacked with crates of beer but, more importantly, it was stacked with different crates of beer… I counted around 25 different brews and there were some labels I didn’t recognise at all. What a stroke of luck, I thought, walking into a specialist beer shop and what better luck that it’s ten metres from the hotel door!
I’d not brought a rucksack as I’d expected nothing of interest so I had to be selective; out of the equation went common beers like Paulaner, Schofferhoffer and Schneider and instead I grabbed handfuls of scoops; when I finally piled them up on the counter I had a Flensburger pils, two beers from the micro Schloßbrauerei Fürstlich Drehna, a pils from Reudnitz of Leipzig, an interesting-looking schwarzbier from Klosterbrauerei Neuzelle, Schultheiss pils and Louny Černé dark lager from the Czech Republic; not a bad haul considering I thought I’d get nowt!
I staggered back over the road, laden down with the winners I’d just bought, and Sue was as surprised as I’d been with the results of my little mission; now we’d have enough beers to keep us going all week when back in the room as long as we weren’t too greedy! We stashed the beers in the wardrobe and headed out for an afternoon’s scooping, as it was now 15:00 and we felt that it was about time we started giving Fudge’s list of 13 brewpubs a kicking – starting with the ones around Alexanderplatz and Nikolaiviertel.
Another ride on the luminous yellow U5 later (and our first sight of the numerous plain-clothed ticket inspectors to whom we flashed our impeccably-valid tickets) we were back at Alexanderplatz where we couldn’t resist trying the food from the numerous butty shops which, as we’d come to expect in Germany, was very good indeed and lightyears away from the shite we are served up in the UK – anyone who’s visited Leipzig or Alexanderplatz will know what I mean. After a slight delay in finding the exit from the U5 platforms due to some major engineering work (of which there is a lot at present in Berlin) we were soon stood on the platform for the M10 metro tram.
We took our first tram of the holiday, a pair of Czech Tatra T6’s, two stops south to the Marienkirche stop (to save walking and also to get some trams in the book!) and from there we walked past the “Red town hall” and down to the river Spree by the old East German parliament, the Palast der Republik. This now deserted shell was completed in under three years and was a source of great pride to the old DDR government with it’s reflective copper glass and striking minimalist lines. Unfortunately, when the combined German parliament had a look at what they had inherited from the Communists, they discovered it was riddled with asbestos and so immediately declared it off-limits and it has remained so ever since. There are plans to demolish this eyesore but the cost will be enormous so work hasn’t yet got underway – if you want a picture of the statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (as any good red would!) with the Palast der Republik behind, there’s not much time left…
Sorry about that impromptu history lecture, back to the beer. We wandered beside the river along Spreeufer until the first brewpub was reached – Georgbræu. This large beer hall beside the Spree caters for the hordes of tourists who come to see Nikolaiviertel’s old (and not so old – some are copies or have been moved here, hence the Berliners call the area Disneyviertel!) buildings although judging by the beer quality and the voices we heard inside it’s locals all the way in November! We sat, as usual if we can, besides the copper brewing kettle and ordered the first beers of this trip; two beers were available, Hell and Dunkel, and a glass of each was soon delivered to our table. “Right, here we go!” I thought.
Both beers were very good (the Hell would be Sue’s favourite of the whole trip) with the Hell showing sackfuls of bitter, hoppy taste and smooth rich maltiness whilst the Dunkel had a lovely toffee character – my notes say “cuddly” so I assume either it was soothing and sweetish or I was having a pretentious moment! We were both very impressed with this tasty start to our scooping campaign and decided to re-visit later in the week if we had any spare time (I’m glad we did!) so reluctantly refused another beer, paid up, and wandered back towards Alexanderplatz station. On the way we passed Alt-Berliner Weißbierstube, apparently the top place to drink Berliner Weiss and a recreation of an old Berlin beer house, but it looked too ostentatious for the likes of us so we pressed on, past the Rotes Rathaus and the towering Fernsehturm, towards the station.
How to drink under a viaduct without cheap cider.
Our next call was one of two brewpubs situated in viaduct arches which sounded a bit on the surreal side to me, but as long as they had scoops I wasn’t going to complain. A short ride from Alexanderplatz to Hackescher-Markt on the S-Bahn deposited us about 1km further west into Berlin and only 100 metres from our next target, Lemkes. After only a couple of minutes we were inside the brewpub which certainly lived up to it’s strange write-up; every few minutes a train would pound overhead causing the whole place to shake and vibrate most alarmingly, but this thunderous racket overhead didn’t seem to concern any of the other customers or staff so we assumed the roof was safe and studied the menu – although I never did get used to being sat in a viaduct arch!
There were four beers available from the tiny brewplant which lurked against the wall opposite the bar; pils, weizen, original and red, so we started with the original and pils and, as we were by now absolutely starving hungry, some food from the delicious-sounding menu too. I decided that, after two trips wussing out, it was time to try the famous German delicacy of Schweinhaxe, or braised pork knuckle (really a roasted knee joint – I think!) so I went for that whilst Sue had pork steak with all manner of other stuff, some of which we couldn’t translate, but assumed wouldn’t be brains or any other rancid part of the unfortunate pig which should have been thrown into the dogfood bin.
Our first two beers soon arrived and both withered me with their mouth-filling flavours; the original was deep brown, liquoricey and malty with a toffee, aniseed and almost herby finish whilst the pils was just how a proper German one should taste; dry, full-on malt and bitterness with a fruity, hoppy and very bitter finish. Whilst we were savouring these whoppers the food arrived – although we are quite used to the sight of half a pig being carried out on a plate by now, it’s still a surprise when the mammoth portion of meat is put down in front of you! The Haxe was hard work but worth it; it contained various different types of meat ranging from pale to sweet, dark and tasty and seemed to me the perfect meal with a glass of hoppy beer! I decided there and then that haxe would be scooped in at every opportunity on the trip…
We finished our superb food and ordered the other two beers to wash it down; neither Sue or I really like the German hefe-weizen style but we’d decided to clear up and it seemed churlish not to see how good it was. To be honest I thought it wasn’t too bad with the usual cloves, banana and bread but quite subtle and drinkable. The red ale was fresh, nutty, toasty and fairly caramelly with a delicious grainy sweetness in the finish and rounded off our visit admirably, for it was time to move on to our last visit of the night; Marcusbräu. We’d been really impressed with the beers and food at Lemkes and I was glad; any bar that brews some beers without adhering to the ridiculous Rheinheitsgebot deserves support – as long as the beers are good!
Small and Smaller.
The walk from Lemkes to Marcusbräu couldn’t be a lot more straightforward – turn right, walk around 100 metres, turn left up Rochstraße, then right down Münzstraße and the bar is around 100 metres on the right-hand side; if it takes more than five minutes you’re even fatter and lazier than I am! The tiny brewplant, which is even smaller than Lemkes (and theirs is tiny), is somehow built into the bar, and therefore displayed proudly in the front window, and I could honestly say I’d never seen a smaller commercial brewery anywhere else – little did I know that this record would only last a single day!
We found a table and ordered a glass of the two beers available; apparently Marcusbräu brew specials occasionally but, just as the previous week when Fudge visited, there were none available for us to scoop. The pils was agreeably bitter and hoppy with a well-balanced malty bitterness and a fresh bitter finish; it must have been good to show above the beers we’d had at Lemkes. Unfortunately the dunkel wasn’t as good, tasting of burnt sugar and caramel, but was perfectly drinkable although we saved the pils to round off the evening with. The food served seemed to major on “fish & chips” for some obscure reason, maybe this was the reason for the annoying crowd of Americans sat behind us – why is it with Yanks that they can’t speak quietly?
As usual with our first day we were now feeling the pace a bit – well, we had been awake for around 20 hours by this point – so decided to call it a night and scoop the nearby Mitte brewpub another day. We paid up and left for the supposed five-minute walk to Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station, but after a slightly confusing ten minutes (walking back and to through an underpass) where we couldn’t work out where the station was, despite us almost standing on it, we eventually located the station entrance with the help of the illuminated Fernsehturm (well, it is the second tallest building in Europe I suppose…) and headed down the tunnels to the U-Bahn station where a shiny plastic train soon trundled in and whisked us the short distance to our hotel.
Back in the cosy room we cracked open a few of the bottles as a nightcap; the Schultheiss and Berliner Kindl pilseners were as bland as we’d expected, both having syrupy and wheaty tastes, although the Schloßbrauerei Fürstlich Drehna Doppelbock at a respectable 7.4% was an interesting, chestnut-brown, very malty brew with tonnes of malt and caramel in the finish. This was a good way to end our first day’s scooping in Berlin so we decided on some well-earned doss – after all, we had another full day of ticking ahead of us the next day… and the next… and the next!
Sunday 20th November 2005.
Anyone for a marzipan potato?
After an unplanned lie-in we finally emerged into the morning (just) and wandered over to the bakery by the U-Bahn where we secured some superb rolls absolutely covered with all manner of seeds and filled with juicy, tasty ham. The scooping gene within me was aroused by the “Kuchen van der Woche”, or “cake of the week” which was a round doughnut filled with vanilla cream, liberally dusted with icing sugar, and most appropriately named “Schneeball” - and if you can’t translate that after all those clues then I’m not going to explain it….
Armed with the necessary sustenance we took the U5 to Alexanderplatz and walked all along Rathausstraße where we admired the statues of Marx and Engels sat in, fittingly, Marx-Egels Platz in front of the old Communist parliament before pressing on over the Spree and onto the famous Unter den Linden (“under the lime trees”). This grand boulevard is lined with lime trees (“linden” in German) which were planted in the 1640’s when this was simply a riding path from the Stadtschloss to the Tierpark, were given the chop by the Nazis to give easy passage to their parades down this most imposing thoroughfare, and re-planted by the communists in the 1950’s which explains their less than massive stature today.
Unter den Linden is flanked by some spectacular buildings, now mostly part of the world-famous Humboldt University, where some of the finest minds of Europe studied such as Einstein, Marx, Engels and the Brothers Grimm. For a little bit of history, find August-Bebel-Platz next to the opera building and locate the glass pane in the middle of the square; under the Nazis, as Opernplatz, this was the scene of the infamous 1933 book-burning ceremony where books considered to be “un-German” were put to the torch – with scary foresight, during the previous century the poet Heinrich Heine had said “Where they start by burning books, they’ll end by burning people” which is engraved on the plaque.
Impressive thought these buildings are, they weren't what we were here for; we’d seen a Christmas market being held around the university and the smell of food was wafting towards us most invitingly. As we passed the stalls Sue remarked how different than markets in the UK they were – not a fake chav hat (or chav!) in sight! Suddenly we stopped dead and slavered; a whole stall full of marzipan beckoned to us… every conceivable shape must have been present from square blocks of numerous flavours to the most outrageous thing I’d seen thus far in Berlin; marzipan potatoes for €2.50!
To be fair, they were reasonable likenesses of the humble spud, complete with eye dimples, and dusted with cocoa powder to give them the correct colour; we had to have one! The young lass behind the counter seemed amused that I found the concept of marzipan tubers funny and handed over my chosen potato with a laugh – no sense of humour, these Germans! We scurried off with this prize and sampled it; the marzipan was made in Berlin by Kleynemeyer (not that we’re marzipan scoopers or anything…) and was delicious! Before long the potato was no more, but now we could smell something much more filling ahead and, sure enough, we soon found a van containing massive cast-iron pans full of steaming food being dispensed to crowds of locals; that was recommendation enough for us!
We purchased a huge plate of Grünkohl (curly kale) with Bratkartoffeln (sliced potatoes cooked in duck fat with bacon and onions) and Mettwurst (a thin sausage with a strong smoky bacon taste) and quickly cleared the plate; this simply reinforced our opinion that German food is some of the best around, especially when combined with a few scoops! We pressed on towards the Brandenburg gate, stopping off for an espresso along the way at a café which also sold gorgeous-looking cakes which, alas, we were too full to partake of and, unfortunately, we never saw it open again until we were on the airport bus on Wednesday evening… cheers then!
The Brandenburg gate was soon reached but we carried on into the Tiergarten as I wanted to see the Russian war memorial having almost walked past it the night before. Dusk was falling fast but I saw it was a large monument with, surreally, two T34 tanks on pillars which, apparently, were the first two into the city in 1945. Back at the Brandenburg gate, the superb lighting had been turned on and the monument looked amazing; having seen quite a few cities try and fail to light buildings, it was good to see Berlin could manage it! We hung around, taking in the scene, until it became dark and it was time to start scooping; after all that walking we could do with a beer!
We took a U-Bahn from Unter den Linden to Friedrichstraße and then S75 east to Alexanderplatz to have a look at a promising little bar we’d seen the previous evening. Called “Alkopole”, it’s situated in an arch inside the station just as you come up the U5 escalators. We looked inside and saw five beers on tap – we were sold! Inside the glass doors was an amazingly cosy little pub with a centre bar and relaxing atmosphere from which to observe the frantic comings and goings outside; or it would have been frantic outside were it not Sunday! We settled into a hellfire seat which was actually attached to the bar; we sat facing the bar which acted as our table in an amazingly clever use of available space in the tiny pub.
The beer range wasn’t brilliant but was very adequate; Berliner Kindl bokbier, Kulmbacher schwarzbier and weizen, Duckstein, and the pearl of the old DDR, Radeberger pils, so we ordered a bok (which was on as a seasonal beer) and a schwarzbier and sat in our little compo very happy with life indeed. Both beers were reasonably “safe” and uninteresting but they were both scoops which was what really mattered on day two of the campaign and, besides, drinking them in such a top little bar almost certainly made them seem better than they would under the cold, clinical light of a beer tasting session.
We soon drained our glasses and made for the Brauhaus Mitte which is situated in the top floor of the Carré shopping centre at the west end of Alexanderplatz S-Bahn station and is easily spotted from the train as you arrive from the west (bloody hell, I sound like a right old Commie!). Within five minutes we were walking up the stairs to the brewpub, the shopping centre being closed by this time, and we bagged a table looking over the brewplant and the closed shops which made for a curious mixture! Four beers were available, but although Fudge had scooped a bokbier the previous week we’d missed that whopper and had to make do with a zwickelbier instead, which was excellent – a rich flavour, jam-packed with malt and aniseed, followed by a full malt and bitter finish with burnt toast and a hint of yeastiness.
Of the other three beers, the pils had a luscious rose-petal hop aroma and a bitter, hoppy finish giving it real character whilst the dunkel was mid-brown in the typical Berlin style and toasty maltiness in the finish. As much as we don’t like weizen we gave it a go, but it was a particularly sticky and bubblegummy example and it just confirmed our dislike of the style as a whole. The beers in the book, we negotiated the scary spiral staircase to the toilets two floors below and viewed the lagering tanks stacked up there in the impressive-looking cellar. The whole brewpub had been quite an experience, come to think of it – although after drinking under a viaduct the night before, supping in a shopping centre wasn’t that surreal really!
Older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser.
Despite these interesting beers being very inviting for another round we were now on a mission, so paid up and scuttled back down the steps to Alexanderplatz station just over the road. We took the U8 to it’s southern terminus at Hermanstraße and then set off in search of the Brauhaus Rixdorf which didn’t sound that easy to find – happily it was, although we did have second thoughts whilst walking down Delbrückstraße until we saw the pub (helpfully illuminated) through a sort of carpark next to a chimney; once you know this it’s quite easy to find!
Rixdorf is one of Berlin’s oldest brewpubs and, to be honest, it shows in the beers; bland and not very interesting, to be honest. No seasonal was available although I saw signs for the bok so maybe we’d been unlucky? The building is far more interesting than the beers, resembling a cross between an English country house and a Flemish merchant’s, with an impressive staircase to the toilets and many small wood-clad rooms to peek into. However, the blandness of the beer made no impression on us and we quickly emptied the glasses and stormed off back to Hermanstraße S-Bahn station for the next part of our move.
The smallest brewpub in the world?
We were now heading right out into the suburbs of Berlin to check out two very intriguing-sounding brewpubs, Schloßplatz Cöpenick and the tap of the small Berliner Bürgerbräu brewery, the most traditional of the three remaining ex-DDR breweries – they even use proper hops, for fuck’s sake! We took the S47 to the end of it’s line at the remote terminus of Spindlersfeld and located the tramstop just down the road for the short trip to Cöpenick. Within five minutes a Tatra T6 on route 60 had arrived and we were soon pulling into the small town square of Cöpenick.
Fudge’s description of this place had intrigued me - „This place is easy to miss as it looks like a Tourist Information office”, doesn’t that intrigue you too? - so I didn’t really know what to expect at all. When the tram had left we looked around the square, lined with houses in much the same way as one in the low countries, and saw a tiny, pre-fab looking thing in the middle which, had we not known, we’d have assumed was indeed a tourist office… surely this minuscule shed couldn’t house a brewery… and if, by some usage of a parallel dimension they’d managed to shoehorn one in, then where would the customers sit? We headed for the tiny construction with great interest.
The building was a small hut-like assembly with a glass front and, amazingly, a diminutive brewplant visible in the windows. We squeezed inside and saw that the plant was on wheels and could be moved around to save space but the fact remained it was tiny! There can’t be more than 20 seats in the whole place but, luckily, we bagged the last table and looked around in amazement at the Lilliputian stature of our surroundings, filling our lungs with the unmistakable smell of recent brewing. The extremely cheerful waitress soon came round and we learnt that we’d just missed the bokbier (D’oh!) although the helles and dunkel were still available so we ordered a glass of each and resumed our blatant staring around the interior of this most unusual place.
Given the size of the brewery I didn’t think the beers would be up to much but I was proved wrong by both of them; the helles was very cloudy, spicy and hoppy with a rich malty flavour and some spicy hop in the rich malt finish, whilst the dunkel had a juicy sweetness yet was reasonably bitter and hoppy with toasty malt which belied it’s typically-Berlin copper colour. To say we were impressed by the beers would be understating how surprised we’d been by the quality of beer produced from this “toytown” kit in the front window, and also the unusualness of the place as a whole; I decided that if we experienced a more unusual brewpub anywhere else I’d show my arse in Burton’s window! (That’s an old Northwich saying according to my dad).
You can’t beat quality.
As time was now getting a bit tight to fit in many more places, we decided to do one more but make it a good one and hotfoot it to Berliner Bürgerbräu’s brewery tap in Friedrichshagen. With a tram due, it was time for Bezahlen, Bitte (I’ll pay, please) and a couple of quick photos before the few steps across the town square to the tramstation. A No.60 soon arrived, right on time, and whisked us the 14 stops (it’s quite a long way – a quicker way is to take S3 from Ostbahnhof to Friedrichshagen then tram 60 3 stops south) past the amusingly-named „Bolshy Imbiss“ kebab house to a quiet street which really felt out in the suburbs; I could almost see the tumbleweed crossing the road... Wild-west synonyms aside, the supposedly excellent beer of the local brewery was what we’d come here for so we followed the tramlines for 50 metres until the brewery tap came into view ahead.
I was really looking forwards to trying Bürgerbräu beers again – I’d scooped the pils during my inter-rail in 1991 and, from what I remember, it was a top beer although we’d been so deprived of drink for a week in Scandinavia that Greenalls would probably have tasted like nectar of the gods to us. The Bräustübl didn’t look much outside but once through the door it was obvious a few euros had been spent here recently; the wood-panelling and lovely old furniture, not to mention the grand and elaborate bar, made for relaxing and cosy surroundings.
We settled into a table along one of the walls and quickly ordered a pils and Rotkehlchen along with two Schmandküchlein, a kind of cheesecake with onions, as we were by now famished with all the storming around we’d done in the last few hours! These turned out to be small but with deliciousness out of all proportion to their size, and took the edge off our hunger enough to concentrate on the beers in front of us. The pils was stunning – a huge yet subtle maltiness gracefully led into a grainy, fresh, lip-smackingly bitter finish. The Rotkehlchen was very different yet equally as enjoyable; an amber beer, the luscious toffee/malt aroma and flavour with a subtle strawberry fruitiness just begged to be drunk; this was one of the best beers I’d had for a very long time and I was gutted we’d not got here sooner to drink more of this nectar!
The other two beers were almost as good: the Bernauer Schwarzbier was dark red, much darker than usual for Berlin, and the coffee and liquorice aromas leapt out of the glass at me. The taste was similar with lots of toasted malt and coffee before a strong roasted malt finish – superb stuff. The dunkler bock was similar if more caramelly than roasty in much the same way as a Münchener dunkel is more toffeeish than a roasty Saxonian schwarzbier. I’d been totally blown away by these beers, not a duff one amongst them, but we now needed to get back to the hotel as we didn’t know the last times of the trams so, regretfully, we paid up and returned to the tramstop feeling satisfied at having scooped such a superb pub and the equally outstanding beers made there.
The journey back was quite an event in itself; we took a tram 60 to Lindenstraße where we saw the tram we wanted, the 27, waiting for the traffic lights to change before proceeding into the platform. I looked on in horror as we saw the platforms were staggered – I still can’t believe we actually made the tram; I vaguely remember running across a busy junction and arriving at the platform just as the tram was preparing to storm off! We had to get this tram as it fortuitously took us north up to U Tierpark where we could change for the U5 back to Samariterstraße, otherwise we’d have had a far more tortuous journey on our hands.
The connection made, we were walking into the hotel 30 minutes later and tucking into our conventional nightcap from the wardrobe – Sterburg export from Leipzig, which wasn't too bad if tasting a bit of hop oils, and Klosterbrauerei Neuzelle Schwarzer Abt at 3.9% which was a very unusual brew, tasting like a decent copy of Mackesons with sweet chocolate and caramel yet still roasty to take the edge off the sweetness and eminently drinkable for such a low alcohol beer. With another day’s successful scooping done, we retired for some deserved doss.
Monday 21st November 2005.
Another leisurely start – although we did manage to leave the room well before midday – and another visit to the bakery for a further schneeball which I’d developed quite a passion for owing to it’s delicate vanillary centre and it’s capacity for covering the consumer in profuse quantities of icing sugar; that and they were around €1 a go. We started off at the Brandenburg gate to get some photos in daylight, and then did the same with the Soviet war memorial. The sun had finally broken through the murk and we were being treated to a lovely sunny day, which made a change from the coldness we’d had so far and certainly aided the photography.
We took some arty photos of the Reichstag (already with it’s long queue snaking out over the lawn) and some trees bedecked with glorious autumn foliage before heading off south along Ebertstraße, following the Tiergarten’s eastern edge, towards a sight which I felt we had to see; the last resting place of a certain Adolf Hitler, the remains of the Führerbunker. Now before anyone starts branding me a fascist or anything equally insulting let me say that I’ve always had a fascination with Hitler along the lines of “why the fuck would an intelligent bloke, as Hitler was, get it so wrong?” I know he suffered from Parkinson’s disease, but I’m still enthralled as to how a shortarse like Hitler could take a whole country along with the ideas he had; when you see the newsreels of the time and see just what a good public speaker he was then you begin to understand… sort of. I suppose it’s just down to wanting to see things that most tourists don’t that brought this on, but having stood on the same balcony as Hitler did at Nürnberg the year before had intrigued me even more.
On the way south we had a quick look at the holocaust memorial at Arendtstraße which totally failed to mean anything to me; it’s just an uneven patch of ground with thousands of different height concrete pillars stuck in it - what’s that supposed to mean? Surely something more fitting could have been thought up than this? I’ve been around Dachau camp and that had a far deeper impact on me than this depot for concrete supports did… Anyway, we pressed on and eventually found what we were 99% sure was the remains of the bunker – the Russians demolished what they could after the war and it’s been wasteground ever since but it was still an eerie experience. A surreal moment occurred when, after removing her hat, Sue’s fringe resembled Hitler’s although this had happened a few times so far so we sensibly didn’t read anything into static’s Nazi leanings…
Our appetite for the final resting places of dictators sated we made for Potsdamer Platz, the bastion of the “new” Berlin with it’s tall modern office blocks and the surreal Sony centre and it’s tent-like roof. Potsdamer Platz was flattened during the war and, with the wall running through it, remained a wasteland for 40 years until it suddenly became Berlin’s prime piece of real estate in the 1990’s. To be honest it’s a rather soulless, money-oriented place compared to Alexanderplatz, but we weren’t just here to bow to the all-consuming juggernaut of the free market, there was beer to be scooped too so, after looking at some pieces of wall which had been placed in their old positions (although I don’t think they are the original bits) we commenced the day’s scooping.
Another tick in the wall.
After taking a few minutes to locate the way into the Sony centre, which is basically a load of skyscrapers around a central plaza with a weird tent-like roof over it all, we managed to get into the place and found our target, Lindenbräu, at the far side. The pub was a strange square construction somewhat crappily stuck against the far wall, maybe as an afterthought, but already we could see the famous “silver copper” gleaming from inside although exactly what the point of having a silver copper was we never discovered during our visit.
Immediately on entering the pub our noses were filled with the delicious aromas of brewing – and by the smell of it the hot break was just commencing, my favourite part! Finding a seat proved to be no problem and we bagged a table near to the copper to watch the brewer (who seemed to be wearing some rather un-fetching Bavarian lederhosen) in action, so to speak. On reading the menu it became clear that only one beer was brewed on-site and the place was owned by Traunstein, who own some other brewpubs such as Isarbräu at Großheselohe, near München, and the other beers were supplied by them – although they seemed to do a roaring trade in the homebrew mixed with various unlikely-sounding drinks; wheat beer and fizzy orange or cola, anyone? Yeuuch!
Given that the pub brewed the only style we don’t like in German beer we were a bit withered, but decided it had to be scooped in (see? No principles when scoops are involved!) so we ordered a small glass of the hefeweizen and one of Traunstein zwickelbier just to avoid getting two glasses of wheat! The homebrew was a typical Bavarian-style weizen, if a bit orange like Cheddar Valley cider, and not at all to our taste with it’s sweet bubblegummy flavour and heavy clove and spicey wheat finish with some herby notes, although the zwickel was decent enough in a fresh, malty kind of way without being terribly interesting. One beer in here was quite enough for us, but we stayed a while talking to the sociable bräumeister who told us they brew four times a week at least and can only keep up with demand for the one beer with the 1,000 litre brewrun of the silver kettle.
Holidays in the sun.
Our scooping there done, we wandered out of the Sony centre and around the Christmas market which took up most of Potsdamer Platz and munched a bratwurst whilst watching people hurl themselves (on tyres) down the aforementioned skislope on scaffolding in the middle of it all. One thing we always do is to check crepe vans for toppings as I love nutella and Sue’s choice is marzipan; rarely are they seen on the same menu but here we were lucky – so a crepe had to be scooped in too! Our dinner consumed we decided to go on a tourist hunt for more remaining bits of the wall so followed it’s path which has been thoughtfully marked by a double line of bricks in the ground for much of the central section. We somehow lost the track and ended up walking past one of the recommended bars which Fudge hadn’t visited – the house of 100 beers – but a quick look at the menu told us that it was like similar pubs in Budapest and Köln where the range is compiled along the “never mind the quantity, feel the width” policy so we walked on by.
Enjoying the sunny weather, we crossed the U2 tracks and returned to our original route – and there, on the corner of Stresemanstraße and Ernabergerstraße, was a small section of wall and a watchtower - and these bits weren’t tourist magnets like those on Potsdamer Platz, but a small section which had somehow survived the mass rebuilding of the area. The site they were on was due to be redeveloped but, thanks to local protests and the painting of the wall by some of the original “East-side gallery” artists, it was to be incorporated into the new building’s foyer. The wall carried the reverse of the famous “Trabbie through the wall” painting on the ESG by Birgit Kinder but this was seen from the back of the car – and it was in immaculate condition too! “Don’t destroy history” screamed the message on the wall and, for once, big business seems to have listened! Respect to the artists who have saved this piece of history from destruction.
Behind the wall was a very decrepit watchtower, complete with Russian vodka bottles inside, and further down Ernabergerstraße was a proper full-size watchtower in perfect condition. Inspired by finding bits of wall not even on the maps, we walked on down Niederkirchnerstraße and soon found the “Topography of terrors”, a kind of exhibition about Nazi Germany and the like, with it’s 200 metre section of wall still relatively intact. All well and good, but we wanted a less touristy wall experience so took S-Bahn 1 to Nordbahnhof where a large section of wall was still extant.
The section of wall here is part of the “Berliner Mauer Dokumentations-zentrum”, or Berlin Wall museum, but the last surviving section of the whole wall, complete with death-strip and dog runs, was closed (as are most museums in Germany on Mondays) so we settled for a walk along the whole run of the wall. The first part was in quite poor condition, with the steel rods sticking out all over the place, but the second stretch was smooth and just as I imagine it must have looked when in pristine condition and I got some lovely photos as the sun bathed the whole scene in the mellow golden light of late winter afternoon.
Don’t let the train take the strain – it’ll only cause more.
Our next move was to the furthest brewpub from the centre, Alter Fritz in Tegel. To get there we needed to get to Tegel itself and then take a bus for 2 stops into the forest where the pub was situated. There are two options to get to Tegel, the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn, and we chose wrong and went for the S option. At first everything was fine as we sped northwards towards Wittenau but things went tits-up when we changed at Schönholz for the supposedly frequent S25 to Tegel. After 20 minutes of various trains coming and going with no indication of how long ours would be, one eventually trundled in for the four-stop journey out into the suburbs.
However, we weren’t out of the woods yet. Despite being in the right town we soon found out that the S-Bahn station wasn’t actually in the centre as the U-Bahn was; maybe we should have looked at the network diagram which clearly shows a gap… After ten minutes of impatient searching we found a bus stop where the required buses to Alter Fritz stopped at, the 124, 133 and 222, and almost immediately one appeared and we climbed aboard. Well, we were on our way eventually!
The first stop was Tegel U-Bahn and we saw how easy it would have been on that move; the bus stops right at the top of the steps from the station! We stormed away from Tegel and town quickly gave way to countryside and then forest within a short distance and after only two stops we were at the required one (helpfully there are “next stop” signs in the buses), Heiligenseestraße/Ruppiner Chaussee, where we alighted. Buses 133 and 222 turn left after the pub, which is on the tight corner, but the 124 carries straight on into the forest so beware if you catch this one! The drizzle which had started in Tegel was now developing into a more sinister rain so we scurried across the very busy road (the crossing phase is about every 20 minutes or so it seemed!) and plunged into the pub to seek shelter and scoopstenance.
A touch of Brettanomyces in Berlin.
Alter Fritz turned out to be a large roadside pub, much in the style of something we’d get back in the UK, and it claims to be the oldest in Berlin with parts apparently dating back to the 14th century although it certainly doesn’t look that old to me – I don’t know what bits they’re on about but they’re not obvious! As we entered the pub the typically German big copper brewplant was on the left and the very modern bar to our right and, as they had just opened, we had the pick of the tables so selected one with a view of the bar and brewery. We ascertained there were three beers available, Kupfer, Messing and hefeweizen, and I was a bit withered as Fudge had scooped the bock the week before; according to the board in the pub weizen was supposed to be the summer brew and bock the winter one – D'oh!
Not wishing to drink weizen if we didn’t have to I ordered one each of the regular beers and we settled down in the warm with our coats steaming away on the radiator behind. When the glasses arrived, however, something was strange and I could smell it straight away; I sniffed the Kupfer and immediately knew what it was – wild yeast! The Messing smelt even more strongly of brettanomyces, so I took a mouthful of each to see what they tasted like and immediately I was taken back to drinking Blue Anchor beers in Helston! Messing was golden with a fruity, dry maltiness hidden behind a wall of wild yeast, quite similar to Blue Anchor IPA, whereas Kupfer was billed as a “dunkel” although, as befits the Berlin style, it was more copper-brown in colour with a toasty, toffee-ish maltiness with sweetness and a hint of the wild yeast character in the finish.
Different and interesting as these beers were, the wild yeast flavour didn’t really work with the styles of beer for me (neither does Blue Anchor, come to think of it) so, seeing the rain had passed over, we paid up and wandered around the corner to the bus stop where a ten-minute wait was required for the first bus. We took this to Tegel’s U-Bahn station this time, having learnt our lesson from our experiences with the shambolic S-Bahn, and took the U6 to Leopoldplatz for our third brewpub of the day, and judging by reports I’d read possibly the strangest, Eschenbräu in the northern suburb of Wedding.
“Planey Wayney’s brewing!”
Mat Wilson had sent me a report on his visit to Eschenbräu and it sounded as if it were a kind of squatter’s brewery with a very weird cellar bar; this just had to be done, particularly as he’d said the beers were impressive. We headed down Luxemburgerstraße before taking the first right into Genterstraße. Down this road we trudged, passing some bars looking like the front room of some bloke’s house (should have tried them, really) selling Berliner Kindl, before the road ended at Triftstraße in front of a huge block of flats, the home of the brewpub – somewhere.
The directions I’d had from Fudge and Mat now helped a great deal; without them I doubt we’d have actually found the brewpub! Basically, you walk past the right-hand side of the building as you look at it from Genterstraße, through some bushes, then turn left through an opening, go through a gate and follow the signs! If you’ve got the navigation right you should be standing in a large courtyard in the middle of the flats, with the brewery sat behind it’s glass windows at the back and the well-hidden brewery tap below in a cellar. If you’re totally lost or have walked into someone’s kitchen by this point then I’d recommend starting again; it’s a surreal place and definitely worth the effort!
We looked up at the brewplant which, in contrast to most German examples, was stainless steel and reminiscent of that seen in the unlamented Firkins back home. There seemed to be some activity still going on inside with the brewer moving between the vessels and steam billowing out of the roof vent. Down in the bräukeller we were impressed with the surroundings; it was a dark, peaceful and relaxing place with brewery stuff on the walls and random brewing bits scattered around. Our bad luck with seasonal brews continued, however, as only the standard pils, dunkel and weizen were available with the next special not due on until the 2nd of December!
We tried the pils and dunkel which were competent if a little unexciting to my taste; the pils was the better beer I felt with a spicy, citrussy and quite bitter flavour with balancing maltiness whilst the dunkel, in the Berlin copper/red style, was fairly thin and toasty with some dry bitterness in the malty, dry aftertaste. We didn’t bother with the weizen, but as we sat drinking our beers the brewer suddenly produced behind the bar to pull himself a large glass of wheat – and we both stopped and stared! He was a spitting image of our sad plane-spotting mate “Planey Wayney” although he probably didn’t go around being arrested in Greece for spying and consequently sharing a cell with the local Albanian drugs baron… although we didn’t ask, just in case he did.
Wild Goose chases-R-us.
Our next move was to be something of a journey into the unknown, as no-one we knew had been there or even knew where it was properly! The place was called Schoppe Bräu in the northern suburb of Niederschönhausen and, from my limited searching, I’d found out that it was close to the tramstop Waldemarstraße, one stop from the end of the M1 tram. Foolishly, not having learnt our lesson from the S-Bahn shambles getting to Tegel, we walked down to Wedding station on the “ring” for, so we thought, the fairly simple task of getting an S-Bahn to Schönhauser Allee for the M1 to our destination. Simple? The next train was ten minutes, which terminated at Gesundbrunnen – as did the next five on the screen! To get further round the ring we had to change there and fester for the first one going clockwise around the ring – which would have been another ten minutes, so when a train going to Pankow appeared we jumped straight onto that as an escape move!
Once at Pankow we caught the M1 tram going northwards until we reached Waldemarstraße and alighted – the tram stormed off and we were left in a dark street in a very residential-looking part of town; surely no brewpub would be here? We quickly found Waldowstraße and walked a few hundred metres along it, long enough to convince us that there was no brewpub here and something had gone very wrong with my research! However, as we walked back to the tramstop, Sue noticed something in what looked like a garage beside a house and went to investigate – the problem was solved! Schoppe Bräu was in fact a homebrew shop and obviously not a brewpub as the whole place was in darkness. Cheers then! The hum of the tramwires sent us scurrying back to the tramstop for the same tram we’d had there back again... talk about wild goose chases!
What now? Luckily, I’d thought up a few reserve moves to keep us off the streets if we ran out of brewpubs to scoop, and one of these was pressed into use now. A quick check of our invaluable Straßenbahn-netz (tram map, free from BVG kiosks) confirmed that we could ride the M1 all the way to Oranienburger Straße S-Bahn station, where a multi-beer pub was located that should have some scoops. After an interesting half hour’s journey through Berlin’s suburbs we arrived at the stop and, thankfully as by now we were both absolutely bursting for a piss, we immediately saw Aufsturz, the bar with over 100 beers, opposite the tramstop.
What starts well, ends well… sometimes.
We shuffled in through the door with our legs crossed and took it in turns to leg it to the toilets to the amusement of the sociable staff. When we were seated again the menu came round and we studied it; it was like a menu at a bar in Belgium there were so many choices on the list! Not only German beers though, but quite a few Belgian (including some not-too-bad choices) and a selection of other countries too. We decided on a round of dark beers and ordered Lausitzer Porter, because it sounded good, and Märkischer Landmann-Schwarzbier, not knowing it was from Berliner Kindl!
As we’d not eaten for hours we were by now absolutely famished and the plate of nachos on the menu was too tempting to resist, so one of those was scooped in too and it arrived just as we were pouring the beers, complete with their correct glasses; how very Belgian, we thought! The nachos were a good idea but they only made us even hungrier, but I had a plan for that too – after this we’d go to the famous old pub Sophieneck for some top food! First, however, we had the small matter of two scoops to drink.
The Lausitzer Porter was only 4.4% yet was a lovely deep red colour (something we’d missed in Berlin) and a sourish malty nose. This didn’t prepare us for the flavour, which was sweet, caramelly, and quite similar to a milk stout although not quite as intense. The Märkischer Landmann was averagely roasty and caramelly, if a little tame, and I wasn’t too pleased to see i’d chosen a Berliner Kindl beer instead of an independent – although this unhappiness was mollified by the fact it was a scoop! There was a free internet terminal on the wall near to our table so I had a quick look at the website for Schoppebräu and, from what I could gather with my limited German, it had links with the now-closed Brauhaus Braams down in Kreuzberg in the south of Berlin. We finished our beers and, as it was by now pushing 22:00, decided it was time for some fodder.
We’d come to the decision that a proper meal was required and so, having studied the gen to hand, a pub called Sophien’eck seemed the best option particularly as it was situated on the mildly amusingly-named Große Hamburgerstraße and not too far from our present location. After a short five-minute walk along the quiet backstreets we found our target which looked rather inviting; it’s an old building which has only become a pub within the last 20 years; before that it had various uses such as a laundry, stables, bakery, a coffin store and finally it’s current one as a local’s bar. The building survived the wartime bombing and is a classic example of Berliner architecture in an area rarely seen by tourists even though it’s hardly a kilometre from Alexanderplatz. We weren’t there for the outside though, however nice it was, and so in we went in the hope of finding some food available to sate our raging hunger!
The interior turned out to be just as attractive as the outside with enamelled brewery signs on the walls and a feeling of having been a pub for years – I suppose that’s called well-worn cosiness – although how they had managed to achieve this in such a short time was impressive! We sat at a large table at the front and scanned the menu; I was elated to see Berliner Weiss was available and Sue was happy as there was schwarzbier too although we couldn’t find out whose it was (Schultheiss, as I later discovered). A quick check confirmed the kitchen was still producing food (apparently it opens until 01:00!) so that was us sorted and, as schweinhaxe was available, my choice was made for me right away!
An enjoyable half-hour was passed soaking up the bar’s conviviality and I was surprised to get my Schultheiss Berliner Weiss ohne schuss (straight) on the first attempt! The food was just what we needed and very acceptable too, although not quite as good as Lemkes, and as usual the portions were massive so were in no danger of starving during the night. Time was drawing on, unfortunately, so we reluctantly said goodnight and walked the ten minutes down charmingly misty streets – like something out of a black and white film – to Alexanderplatz where we boarded the customary luminous yellow U5 train for our hotel at Samariterstraße.
As the time was now gone midnight our train was liberally dotted with Berliners who’d consumed a bit too much pils than was good for them, although not in the customary UK aggressive manner, and a couple of security staff with a soft-looking dog kept a beady eye on them just in case they decided to vomit on the shiny new train. One particular pair of blokes opposite us had certainly had quite a few beers that evening but they evidently still had capacity for more as, once the security guards had passed them, they each pulled out a bottle of Berliner Kindl pils and grinned conspiratorially at each other. Our journey was only ten minutes in duration, but when we stood up to alight at Samariterstraße the conspirators were already well down their second bottle – now that’s what I call dedicated drinking! As it was now very late for people of our advanced years to be out of bed, I decided against any “wardrobe” bottles and crashed out before Sue had time to brush her teeth; we now had four beers to drink the next day but I was too exhausted from the frantic pace of the day’s scooping to care right that minute…
Tuesday 22nd November 2005.
A pair of ex-breweries.
As it was Sue’s birthday, she decided on a lie-in as a present and I wasn’t going to complain at an extra few hours doss! As it was our last full day in Berlin (I couldn’t believe time had passed so quickly) we resolved to try to see as much as we could along the tourist lines before starting our scooping for the day; luckily, we’d done so well so far that, of the brewpubs, we only required three more to complete our collection. There were still a few bars we wanted to visit, but most of these would have to wait until our next visit, whenever that might be!
Our first move, we decided, wouldn’t be the usual U5 to Alexanderplatz but a bit of a spin around the ring road on the M10 tram and, whilst we were there, check out the apparently closed Bier Company brewpub on Schwedterstraße to ensure it actually was shut. We took the U5 one stop west to Frankfurter Tor then the M10 tram around Danzigerstraße, passing the “Kulturbrauerei” which looked like, as it’s name suggested, an old brewery, and the amusingly-named “McFit” health club, before arriving at the current terminus, Eberswalderstraße; I say “current” terminus as this line is being extended down to Nordbahnhof and presumably this is a re-instatement of a service discontinued in 1967 when all trams in West Berlin were abolished - as the wall used to run just beyond the current terminus I’m assuming the line past here was removed all those years ago.
We walked down to the site of Bier Company but where we’re sure it should have been was just an empty building which quite obviously used to be a pub at some point. As much as I’d known this place would be closed, it was still a bit of a kick in the arse having found a place which used to brew but, just as I was rueing my bad luck, Sue saw the imposing chimney of the Kulturbrauerei which we’d passed earlier at the far end of Chlorinerstraße and we decided to investigate; after all, if this had been a brewery, it’d been one bloody big one!
We reached the imposing front of the building facing onto Schönhauserallee and immediately I twigged what this was - the original Schultheiss brewery! I’d heard about it being one of the largest producers in Europe until it was closed in the 1960’s and production moved to a smaller plant at it’s current location, the curiously-named Indira-Ghandi Straße, in the suburb of Hohenschönhausen. Intrigued, we crossed the busy dual-carriageway to investigate and it soon transpired I had been right in my assumption; the place was indeed the immaculately-preserved Schultheiss brewery with each building having it’s original use written on the top (bottling shed, machine house, brewhouse, dispatch etc) and I’d have believed it were an operating brewery if someone had wafted the scent of mashing over the cobbled courtyard! We were impressed with the preservation of the fabric of the brewery and, even if it is an arts centre now, at least you can wander around the complex soaking up the nostalgia of the attractive buildings.
In one building was a supermarket so, ever keen for scoops, we headed inside to see what was available. One thing I’ve noticed with German supermarkets is that beer is ludicrously cheap; we’d acquired a bottle of Berliner Kindl pils for €0.35 a few days previously and now we found Berliner Weiss for €0.39 – although this was only the rubbish Kindl version and the decent Schultheiss brew was an extortionate €0.45! We also found the scoop of Kindl Hell bock and, more interestingly, Berliner Bürgerbräu Rotkehlchen for €0.59; with all these you need to add on €0.08 in Pfand (deposit) although, even with that additional expense, 35p for a bottle of Schultheiss Berliner Weiss is an absolute bargain in my book! It was good to see Schultheiss beers available in the original brewery although what the workers 40 years ago would think of the modern versions would be interesting to hear…
We decided to take the S-Bahn to the centre of the old West Berlin, the area around Zoo station and Kurfürstendamm, to compare it to the centre of East Berlin at Alexanderplatz. As we walked out of the station the first thing that I noticed was a massive Christmas market being held around the base of the famous Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtsniskirche, which was destroyed in 1943 by allied bombers and was left ruined as a permanent reminded of the war; it’s (hopefully safe) crumbling tower and walls are a powerful reminder of what must have been lost during the latter years of the war.
Braving the crowds, we headed into the Weinachtskindlmarkt and immediately decided that it was a lot more “tat” than those in the former east with more cheap plastic toys and the like everywhere. Despite this, however, I soon found something that I wanted – a half-metre long bratwurst! This sausagelicious delicacy was indeed 50cm long, if a little thin, but unfortunately the bread roll wasn’t as commodious; the sausage was folded two or three times to fit inside a 20cm roll! Despite the lack of a decent photographic opportunity owing to the undersized roll it was still a decent enough snack and helped against the cold, grey, wet murkiness which seemed to be blanketing Berlin.
Sue, not caring for sausages with the same devoutness as myself, soon found a snack of her own - a dampfnudel - which was a steamed dumpling covered in custard and cherry sauce which went down a treat too, although it did resemble a thyroid gland sitting in pus and blood – or so I thought anyhow. One delicacy not tried was a “Smurf apple” which was basically a toffee apple coated with unidentified luminous blue gunge, or how about a “Dracula apple”, which had a slice cut from it and teeth inserted to give a reasonable likeness of it’s blood-sucking namesake?
…but there’s fuck-all there, so let’s go back east again.
Despite the obvious attractions of the food there wasn’t a fat lot else around this area of the city; the famous Kurfürstendamm seemed nowt but a monument to capitalism and – well – that was about it really, no brewpubs or anything interesting like that! (There used to be one on Kurfürstendamm but it closed a few years back). We decided to take the 100 bus back to our spiritual home, Alexanderplatz, as it travelled a fairly interesting route via the Tiergarten, Brandenburg gate and Under den Linden, so we settled on making a sharp exit from the capitalist-ravaged west and headed back to the welcoming east.
We quickly located the bus-stop and within a short while a double-decker bus appeared to whisk us back east. Well, maybe whisk is the wrong word; crawl may be more appropriate, but at least we’d be going in the right direction! As we waited for the bus to depart, happily ensconced on the top deck, entertainment was laid on in the form of a random normal who, being a tall gangly kind of bloke, bashed his head on the roof as he climbed the stairs; you had to be there, it was amusing, honestly. I’m pretty sure that we both had some “rover brain” after four days solid on the scoop so that may have been a contributory factor in the spuriously high amusement value we placed on this slapstick happening.
The bus journey was good for it’s sightseeing content; it was good to see places we’d already been to from a different angle, such as the Brandenburg gate, and the ride through the Tiergarten was rather nice too. Back at Alexanderplatz we decided that maybe we should have though the move through first as, despite having enjoyed the bus ride, we now needed to trek all the way out to Spandau in the west to scoop the brewpub there…
Ah, but we’ve arsed that up – let’s go back west again.
Half an hour later we were back at Zoo station, passing through on the U2, bound for Spandau where one of Berlin’s early (1994) brewpubs was located in the laundry block of the old barracks. We changed at Bismarkstraße for the U7 to Spandau Altstadt where the short walk over the busy road and lazy river took us to the pub which, if you didn’t know what it was, you’d probably say was a pumping station or such industrial relic with it’s impressive slender chimney and Victorian brickwork but pub – no chance!
Once inside the place set it stall out most impressively with a large copper brewkit taking up most of the floor area behind the bar and – even better – it still smelt of brewing! We bagged a table as near to the luscious aromas as we could and ordered both beers available; the permanent Havelbräu hell and seasonal bok, Maronator. Both beers were very good with the hell showing a full malty character and balancing bitterness whilst the bok was deep brown and rich with alcohol noticeable alongside toffee-malt and some dryness giving a smooth, strong flavour.
Whilst supping this excellent beer, some of the best we’d had so far in my opinion (although Sue wasn't as keen on the bok) we realised we’d only got two brewpubs to do, and one was pencilled in for our last day… it had taken us four days, but we’d finally got the winning post in our sights! On answering the call of nature (what a crap quote that is – it’s your bladder that’s full of piss and nothing to do with bloody nature!) I found that the tilework in the bogs was most amusing, with cartoons of various amusing anecdotes related to bodily functions such as a bloke taking a dump, reading the paper, with a cat crapping on his head – amongst various others I’ve now forgotten. No sense of humour these Germans, you know.
Our next target was Luisenbräu, just down the U7 at Richard Wagner Platz, so, unenthusiastically leaving Spandau until the next time we visited Berlin, we paid the bill and returned to the U-Bahn station for the 20-minute (9 stop) journey to Richard Wagner Platz. Fudge had advised me that there was a bar outside the U-Bahn station selling 12 draught beers but, strangely enough, not the one called “Beer Pub 3”! We checked out the list, sociably located outside the door of this bar whose name I forget, and found that it was a collection of better-know brands with nothing we really fancied, so off down Otto-Suhr Allee we went for a quick five-minute perambulation - which the English do so well, don’t you think?
Last but one.
Luisenbräu is located on the busy junction of Otto-Suhr Allee and Luisenplatz, opposite the ample gardens of the Schloß Charlottenburg, and is another of Berlin’s original brewpubs having started brewing in 1987. It’s a boring trudge along Otto-Suhr Allee from the U-Bahn station and not one of the quietest either with the road being a major artery into Berlin although, if you’re really lazy, bus 145 can be taken two stops to the junction where the pub is located. We were soon sat at a tall table by the window and it was here we experienced our first cocked-up beer order of the week; I asked for a helles and dunkel (for that was all that was available) but for some reason we received two of each - I know my German isn’t that hot but this didn’t happen anywhere else…!
Having no chance of convincing the Ada that we didn’t actually want two of each beer we stoically tucked into the hell which was a plain, golden brew with a touch of malty dryness and, for the second time that week, a hint of Brettanomyces although even the farmyardy twang of wild yeast failed to save the beer from being terminally boring. The dunkel came next and, amazingly, this too had a bizarre flavour, but this time it was smoke! Fudge’s email had mentioned he’d scooped a rauchbier in addition to the standard brews and, although I confirmed with the barmaid that only helles and dunkel were available, I’m convinced this was the rauchbier; pale red and caramelly in the Berliner dunkel style yet with a pronounced beechsmoke flavour and finish.
Whilst we supped the very smoky beer we planned the next move. It was still relatively early so I reasoned we had time to visit a few of the pubs in Nikolaiviertel before we returned to Georgbræu for Sue’s birthday treat of a nosh-up and some more of their delicious beer. The plan agreed, we drained our glasses and took the bus back to the U-Bahn station as, by now, we were tired of perambulating and just wanted to get back to the east and some decent beer!
Back in the DDR – again.
We took the U2 back under the centre of the city until we arrived at Klosterstraße in the heart of Nokolaiviertel. We emerged into the darkness outside, confident that we’d see the landmark church outside which would point us in the direction of Zur Letzen Instanz, the oldest pub in Berlin, although it was so dark we didn’t see the (unlit) church until we almost walked into it’s doors. We followed the road around the perimiter and soon found the bar we were looking for and, on first impressions, I was favourably inclined – it looked very old and solid, as well it might being one of the only original buildings in the area (built in 1621), most having been built or re-created in the mid 1980’s by the DDR for Berlin’s 750th anniversary – so in we went to see what the inside would bring.
Inside was a revelation; the old-fashioned décor and wood panelling gave the pub a feeling of an inn on one of the moors around Yorkshire, and the flagstone floors only made this seem more likely. The bar itself was ornate and – well, old – and we realised that this was definitely a special place and were glad we’d persevered through the evening gloom to get here. We found a table in the end room, down some steps, and I was delighted to see one of my favourite beers on the list, Berliner Bürgerbräu Rotkehlchen; that was me sorted then, whilst Sue went for the Schultheiss schwarzbier. Whilst our beers were being poured we tried to hide the sounds of our rumbling stomachs in the quiet atmosphere where only conversation and drinking could be heard.
The Schultheiss (which we’d had the previous night in Sophien’eck) was a dark, tasty, roasted beer, very much in the Saxonia Schwarzbier style, with a toasty, bitter finish whilst the Rotkehlchen was a total contrast being an incredibly soft amber brew, eminently gluggable yet with loads of character which included amazing hints of wild strawberries (not those rock-hard abominations you can obtain in Tescos, but proper strawberries!) and a luscious, smooth, malty finish; I was even more impressed with this beer the second time around and it quickly found a place in my European beer “hall of fame” which I really must write up at some point as, presently, it’s more of an abstract concept than anything coming close to reality…
Difficult as it was to leave the relaxed, cosy atmoshphere of the pub we resisted another round (helped by the prices!) and headed for the Nikolaiviertel proper. The area around the deconsecrated Nikolaikirche is the hub of the DDR’s rebuilding programme and, despite many of the buildings being concrete blocks with the outsides stuck on, pretty good it looks too. We passed the lovely gothic Nokolaikirche – strangely made out of bricks not stone – and soon found our target, Zum Nußbaum, on the other side of the towering brick edifice. This pub is apparently a rebuild of a bar from Alt-Kölln to the original plans and it sounded good, with only around 10 tables and a few beers worth drinking on the list. Unfortunately, it was very busy inside so, with our stomachs threatening to begin digesting themselves, we cut our losses and headed for Georgbræu for some food.
He knows too much!
The pub was fairly busy but we found ourselves a decent bench in the front bar overlooking the statue of George slaying the unfortunate dragon. Our waiter was a tall, jovial fellow who, without prompting, asked us which beer we’d like – “pale, dark” he announced, then looked at me and laughed, almost as if he knew which I’d be going for, “…or the special?” I was withered; how did he know I was a scooper…or even what scooping was? This bloke knew too much! There had been no special beer available on Saturday, but I wasn't going to turn this one down so I ordered a helles and a Winterzauberbier (so said the note on the table we’d failed to see thus far) and also some food, Sue having the stuffed cabbage and I the Boulette (a kind of big oval meatball) salad.
The winter special was a good beer to finish our day’s tour on, having loads of character which enabled even a jaded palate to pick out the flavours it contained. It was reddy-brown, very malty, with liquorice and aniseed in the roasted malt flavour then a bitterish, aniseedy finish with more juicy maltiness; definitely one of my top beers of the week! The helles didn’t quite live up to it’s star billing of when we’d tasted it on Saturday, although maybe that was with fresh tastebuds unsullied by four days of solid scooping… saying that, it was a fine, hoppy beer all the same and more than welcome.
Our food soon arrived and was just as good as the beer in that solid, filling, no nonsense (or vegetables!) way German food has. My boulettes were tasty and extremely filling although pride of place went to Sue’s pork stuffed cabbage which was 200% better than it sounds – I don’t usually like cabbage - and every bit as oversized as my food had been. As much as a final beer was tempting, we had six beers to drink that night so we paid the bill, the waiter still grinning knowingly at me, and walked along Rathausstraße past the Fernsehturm and Neptune’s statue (which, in the manner of most statues, looked suspiciously like Browny from Frodsham) for the last time back to the huge station of Alexanderplatz.
Within ten minutes we were back in our room and tucking into the remaining beers in our cupboard I’d acquired all those days ago from the Schnell Mini-markt over the road. We started with Flensburger pilsner 4.8% from right on the border with Denmark and were surprised (it came in a swing-top bottle which I always associate with crap beers which need to make a statement to hide their lack of character) how hoppy and bitter it was, although it did taste more of oils than real hops. Schloßbrauerei Fürstlich Drehna Odin-Trunk 5.4% was next up, and this was definitely a honey beer; the aroma was wafting everywhere as soon as it was opened and, happily, it tasted of real honey, albeit maybe this made it a tad too sweet, with a luscious honeyed and malty finish which managed to develop a bit of balance and complexity.
An oddity next, the Louny Černé dark lager from the Czech Republic, in an export bottling badged as a “schwarzbier”. I’d had their both their pale lagers a few years back in Czech and had been fairly impressed with them, the 12º on draught being particularly good, but this didn’t quite match up and, although roasty and malty, it ended a touch syrupy and simple for my liking. We then tried the Berliner Kindl Hell Bock 7% which, as expected, was a smooth amber beer, almost totally lacking in flavour – how the fuck did they manage to brew a 7% beer which tastes of nothing? Amazing...
I then finished with the two Berliner Weiss beers we’d acquired from the supermarket in the Kulturbrauerei with the Kindl version being a scoop. I began with that and to say I was disappointed would be an understatement… thin, dry, bland – I think I see a pattern with Berliner Kindl beers forming, maybe their closure in 2006 won’t be such a loss for the world of beer after all; I know it’ll only leave one true Berliner Weiss, making the style in danger of extinction, but the Kindl beer has such minimal sourness and personality I’d not grace it by calling it one in the first place.
I drained my glass and refilled with the Schultheiss, immediately grinning as the lovely lacto-bacillus and bretannomyces aromas filled my lungs; now this is Berliner Weiss, or as near as we’ve got nowadays! A lovely balanced acidity to the sweet wheatiness makes this a great drink for either drinking or savouring and I was disappointed I’d only bought one bottle… thanks then for the four in the cellar at home, maturing away!
The beers drunk, we packed some of our possessions away to save time in the morning and turned in for our last night in Berlin whilst watching some amusing German soft-porn TV (purely out of amusement!) with the most tenuous links to sport ever; a lass rolling around in a fountain – what sport is that, then? – and on a model car racing track! It made me laugh, anyway.
Wednesday 23rd November 2005.
All over bar the scooping.
Well, it was our final day and there was only one brewpub on our schedule – the newly opened Brewbaker. Fudge had visited the week previously and, despite the pub having meant to have begun brewing at the start of the year, he’d had the last of the first brew on public sale and, unfortunately, he’d been told the next beer wouldn’t be available for a few weeks. We had, therefore, left the pub until the last possible minute before trying to get the beers in the book but I still wasn’t optimistic that we’d get anything at all.
We spent the morning scooping in some trams around the centre and taking the 100 and 200 buses between Alexanderplatz and Zoo hauptbahnhof taking in the sights again and, to Sue’s dismay, seeing the coffee shop on Unter den Linden closed again. We then took the S-Bahn to Bellevue and walked the short distance to the surreal address of railway arch 415 and found the pub – with yet another tiny brewplant obvious in the front window! Crossing my fingers, in we went after taking the obligatory phot…
We were the only customers, not really surprising at 15:00 on a Wednesday afternoon, and the guy behind the bar was engaged in conversation on his phone. We looked around whilst waiting for him to come to us; the brewplant looked suspiciously shiny and there was no smell of brewing, not even a hint… I asked tentatively if any house-brewed beers were available and got the expected reply; no, not until next week at the earliest. I did my best to blag some in the time-honoured scooping manner but failed miserably as Bert didn’t understand why I’d want to taste beers which weren’t ready so, recognising that we were going to draw a blank here, I gave up on that tack.
There was a surprise, however, in that beers from another brewpub in Berlin were available in the place of the house-brewed ones and he freely admitted they were from Eschenbräu who, he said, had helped him out a great deal with the setting up of the brewery. I ordered a glass of the weissbier as it was a scoop – no morals again, notice – and we settled back for ten minutes of quiet.
The beer wasn’t too bad for a weiss, not being too spicy or bananary but just a plain and simple wheaty, bready beer with lots of yeastiness and a dry, wheaty finish with hints of cloves. When Brewbaker sorts himself out and has beers on regularly – and they claim to be doing specials along the lines of Lemkes – then it will be well worth a visit as the food, home-made soups and bread, smelt very nice indeed; add to this the quietness of it’s location (possibly it’s Achilles heel) and it might be a haven of good beer and relaxation in West Berlin.
A final beer.
After some final tram moves, including the M1 which terminates just north of Unter den Linden, we arrived back at the area around the Palast der Republik for the last time and took some photos of the sights around the area, not helped by the weather which was incredibly dull and murky; the top of the TV tower was wreathed in mist and made for an interesting picture!
The touristy bit done, the Christmas markets were next in the hope of finding the stall selling Grünkohl and bratkartoffeln open. Fortunately it was, and dispensing steaming platefuls to an eager queue of normals with admirable efficiency, although a group of American tourists seemed to be struggling to grasp the menu; “What’s that wurst thing?” asked one – I mean, what are these Germans doing, writing menus in German in their own country without an English translation… how dare they? Giving the ignorant Yanks a withering stare I ordered two plates of scorching-hot food and we perched on a shelf to consume the delicious and warming cuisine.
Sated after this monstrous feast we walked back along Karl-Liebnecht Straße and caught tram M4 the one stop to Alexanderplatz station where we’d decided to take a peek into our favourite bar, Alkopole, to see if the little seat next to the bar was free – the bad news was that two blokes were sitting there, but the good news was that they were just drinking up – the seat was ours! After lurking round the door for a few minutes looking suspicious we snuck in as the men left and that was the last drink of our scooping trip sorted! Sue had a schwarzbier and I, desperate as ever, went for the last scoop on the bar – Kulmbacher weissbier – and we spent an enjoyable twenty minutes perched on the bar enjoying the quiet of the pub and watching the hecticness outside.
A little Fokker.
Our time was up – time to get the TXL aerobus to Tegel airport. This leaves from the stop on Karl-Liebnecht Straße by the railway bridge (with a helpful “time due” indicator) so we watched the trams parade past until the airport bus arrived, instantly recognisable by it being in Air Berlin livery! With hindsight we should have had a last drink in Luisenbräu and taken the No.109 and saved a good half an hour but we didn’t know the TXL bus would take so long in winding its way through the suburbs!
Eventually, however, we arrived at Tegel and I was now intrigued whether my hunch about planes would come off – I’d guessed that the flight would be worked by the rare Fokker 100 plane – but we were allocated seats which suggested I was wrong and we’d be on the ubiquitous 737. Gutted at having my dreams of a “little Fokker” snatched away from me (Sue had to endure hours of me getting more and more whipped up about the Fokker and telling really crap jokes based around the word “Fokker”) I resigned myself to mediocrity. We boarded the bus to the plane and headed straight for a parked 737-800, as expected, but just as I’d started to turn my phone off and sort my bag out Sue nudged me and pointed at something… we’d swung around the back of the 737 and there, sat all by itself with doors open to receive us, was a little Fokker 100! I stared at it with open-eyed disbelief and laughed; I’d been right all along and we were on for something more interesting than a 737 for once!
We boarded the little plane and found that it had leather seats with a good “rake” – room between seats – as this is a route mainly used by Tory bastards and we wouldn’t want them to have to sit on kakky old fabric that working people had previously sat on and dirty their expensive suits, would we? Stretched out in the comfy seat, it seemed that the move had come to a perfect end and a great five days scooping was being rounded off in luxury which I’d managed to get for a pittance; £19.50 single from Berlin to Stansted was only eight pence more than I’d paid for the Ryanair outward leg, but this time we got a free drink and a sandwich!
The little plane showed a surprising turn of speed on the runway, much more impressive than a 737, and the flight sped by quickly aided no doubt by the cheese butty and orange juice which you get from Air Berlin totally free in their very laudable attempt to appeal to business travellers on a budget as well as us plebs who fill up the unused spaces. Back at Stansted, we scooped transit No.9 back to the terminal before the final amusing bit of the trip – some tosser on the bus back to everyone’s favourite carpark with off-red pachydermic leanings thought he’d utilise the wonders of mobile technology for a subject so mundane that it’d surely have the inventors smashing their prototypes in disgust at what they would have created; asking for answers to his crossword! What a twat.
If you’ve actually read all this gibberish then I’m sure you will realise that Berlin is rather good for the beer drinker having 14 brewpubs (well, strictly speaking, 13 and a brewery tap!) and numerous other bars which serve decent beer. Obviously, for the scooper towards whom this article is aimed, this is an amazing array of beers to scratch in and, even if you go at it hammer and tongs, you’ll still probably need at least two days, maybe three, to do everything on the essentials list – and that’s without any other incidental bars in-between!
We spent five days doing both the touristy bits of which there’s plenty; Hitler’s bunker, the Brandenburg gate, the Eastside gallery, the Communist legacy and the remains of the wall are just a few of the distractions from beer this great city holds, as well as some fairly intensive scooping sessions where we managed to clear all the brewpubs which were actually brewing as well as visiting some of the excellent bars around the city. As with many great cities, don’t just go for the beer or you’ll be missing what makes scooping – and in particular scooping abroad - so entertaining; the seeing of different places and how the pubs fit into their surroundings whilst seeing some remnants of events which changed the world. It’s a great city, enjoy it – we did.
Beers of the week.
This was a very difficult choice to make; it’s not that all the beers were superb, but we had so many scoops that picking just five was difficult but, after much deliberation, here we go…
1) Berliner Bürgerbräu Rotkehlchen. A superb Vienna-style lager made with slightly toasty malts giving a lovely toffee hint to the flavour and an unexplained hint of strawberries. Glorious stuff.
2) Klosterbrauerei Neuzelle Schwarzer Abt, 3.9%. Very unusual beer, reminiscent of a milk stout, with a luscious sweetness to offset the roastiness. Very good.
3) Schultheiss Berliner Weiss. I’d had it before, but it’s still the best of the two currently available with a sourish, lactic and slightly „Brett“ flavour. Interesting and complex.
4) Berliner Bürgerbräu Bernauer Schwarzbier. Classic black schwarzbier with immense roastiness, liquorice flavours and a massive complexity. Lovely.
5) Brauhaus in Spandau Maronator. Full-on, malty, tasty and powerful strong brew.
I think from the above results you can guess my brewery of the week... Bürgerbräu brew some classic examples of German beer and I rate them as one of the best breweries I’ve had anywhere in Europe; a bit unexpected since they are an established brewery and a tad larger than most brewpubs, but quality speaks for itself. Of the others, I think Lemke probably had the best range of the other places we tried for consistency if not downright character although Mitte wasn’t bad either.
My Berlin Google map is here...
The new Berlin gen page is here which describes the pubs, brewpubs and all about the city.
© Gazza 28/03/2009 v2.0
|East side gallery and TV tower||Mobile wurst stand at Alexanderplatz !||Welcome Herr Prescott at hotel Mercure Ost||Lemke, under the arches !||Marcus Brau outside with the tiny plant visible.|
|Berlin 19/11/05||Berlin 19/11/05||Berlin 19/11/05||Berlin 19/11/05||Berlin 19/11/05|
|Fernsehturm and Marienkirche at Alexanderplatz||Marx and Engels with the Palast der Republik behind them.||Marzipan potatoes...!||Brandenburg gate||Brauhaus Mitte|
|Berlin 19/11/05||Berlin 20/11/05||Berlin 20/11/05||Berlin 20/11/05||Berlin 20/11/05|
|Brauhaus Mitte lagering tanks||Brauhaus Rixdorf||Brauhaus Kopenick inside||Brauhaus Kopenick||Eating Schneeball by Brandenburg gate|
|Berlin 20/11/05||Berlin 20/11/05||Berlin 20/11/05||Berlin 20/11/05||Berlin 21/11/05|
|Potsdamer Platz Lindenbrau||Lindenbrau's silver brewkettle||Bit of wall at Stresemannstraße||Tracing the path of the wall on Niederkirchenerstraße||Brauhaus Alter Fritz at Tegel|
|Berlin 21/11/05||Berlin 21/11/05||Berlin 21/11/05||Berlin 21/11/05||Berlin 21/11/05|
|Brauhaus Alter Fritz Tegel's plant||Eschenbräu||Old Schulthiess brewery Schonehauser Allee||Half metre bratwurst!||Brauhaus Spandau|
|Berlin 21/11/05||Berlin 21/11/05||Berlin 22/11/05||Berlin 22/11/05||Berlin 22/11/05|