Arrived late in evening. Rode taxi, the standard big cream coloured Mercedes from airport through darkened roads to hotel, the Wyndham Grand. (Hallesche Straße 10, 10963 Berlin). Into marble and polished black stone lobby: a vast, luxurious open plan space leading down to the bar and restaurant area. Checked-in. Dumped bags. Headed out.
Walked up Stresemannstrasse to Brandenburg Gate (20 mins). Memories of 1989, November, the month the Berlin Wall came down and the month I started writing. Air was biting cold and it started to spit rain as I got there – didn’t spoil the atmosphere… and kept away most of the tourists.
Nothing prepares you for the raw potency of this place. Not just because of the vast scale and incredible attention to geometry and detail in the structure, but because of the history… you’ve seen this gate a thousand times in black and white show reels. But even before that, when Napoleon took over the city in 1806 and stole the The Quadriga, a statue consisting of the goddess of peace, driving a four-horse triumphal chariot that is mounted above the gate – taking it back to Paris until returned in 1814.
Back to hotel and into bar. Small, circular space lined with curved panels of plated glass, leather seats and a very comfortable vibe. I discovered Black Print (2011), a delicious blend by Markus Schneider – typically St. Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Dorsa, Cabernet Mitos and Merlot. Really really good. If you like strong, punchy flavour with a solid dose of oak that doesn’t scrape the back of your tongue away then get your hands on a bottle or two.
Grey. Grey. Biting cold air and no sunlight. Headed out for a walkabout. Crossed Stresemannstraße onto Wilhelmstraße and then up Friedrichstraße through the remains of Checkpoint Charlie.
Walking up towards Checkpoint Charlier we passed this building with some beautiful pieces of art deco motif woven into its fabric. Looking a little closer I realised there was a massive piece of history to this building. Here it is back in 1936, and then later – directly after WW2 – and again in the 1960s. A building with an incredible journey through time and world epochs and this piece of art deco has been riding along with it.
Berlin – Checkpoint Charlie: It is surprising how many people think Check Point charlie and The Wall (or Anti-Fascist Protection Boundary as the East German authorities called it) was something to do with World War II, rather than realise it was to do with August 13th 1961 and the escalating Cold War and evolution of the Iron Curtain as East smashed chests against the West. Soviet era communism and planned economy. The Wall was built to stop the huge exodus of people leaving East Germany for West. When it was initially built (stretches of barbed wire and concrete posts laid down for miles over 24 hours, most East Berliners had no idea they would be cut off from friends and family for the rest of their lives – many stood around and watched with mild interest as the workers seperated streets and divided the City into two. Most people thought it would be a border like any other where you could cross with a passport. Nobody realised there were no passports for crossing. No permission. And that they would be shot for even trying to get to the other side. Berlin is the focus of two epic historical events in close succession to each other. It doesn’t feel like a tacky bit of commercial tourism. It feels like a genuine reflection the past.
Gendarmenmarkt: This place was instantly captivating. Incredible atmosphere and had the early signs of a Christmas Market being set up. More of this tomorrow when we really got a fantastic festive vibe here. But for now we were passing through, stopping just for a hot cup of mulled wine. The Gendarmenmarkt is a square in Berlin, and the site of the Konzerthaus (Theatre) with two identical French and German Cathedrals at either side. The square was created at the end of the seventeenth century as the Linden-Markt.
All roads lead to Alexanderplatz. Passed a number of Christmas markets and indulged in Glühwein (mulled wine) and bratwurst and then at another one devoured this awesome pork stew with pasta that had so much meat in it my jaw muscles started to ache from chewing. One market had a small ice rink.
Reaching Alexanderplatz you arrive at the golf ball on a knitting needle: Fernsehturm or TV Tower. 368 meters tall and constructed between 1965 and 1969 by the German Democratic Republic it remains a symbol of Berlin. Second tallest structure in Europe. Worth while doing even though it costs 12 Euros to go up. The views are worth it. And there’s a nice little (I mean little, 8 seats) bar there. Although you can buy drinks and sit on the sloping, curved windowsills with a view of Berlin spreading out 300 metres below you. The globe is only 32 metres in diametre so there’s not a long of room for much else up there. If you like high dinning then consider booking a table at the restaurant.
The bar is tiny. Maybe 8 stools wedged up tight against a narrow serving space; one guy there on his own. But it’s worth hanging around and waiting for the couples to down their drinks and to slide into the seats yourself. Rotate round on the stool and you’re faced with sloping windows sweeping away in either direction with stunning views of the City. Stay there and watch the light fade from the sky and see the Night take reign and see the lights flood through wide and narrow streets.
As I’ve said, all roads lead to Alexanderplatz. As part of this, I always seemed to find myself on Unter den Linden too. Fantastic wide boulevard that is still beautiful today, despite the traffic. You can see it clearly from the TV tower hooking right just after passing the oxidised dome of Berlin Cathedral and then plunging straight as an arrow – it connects with and goes through Brandenburg Gate and on through Tiergarten. Here’s a better write-up from wikipedia:
Unter den Linden, which sits at the heart of the historic section of Berlin, developed from a bridle path laid out by Elector John George of Brandenburg in the 16th century to reach his hunting grounds in the Tiergarten. It was replaced by a boulevard of linden trees planted in 1647, extending from the city palace to the gates of the city, by order of the “Great Elector” Frederick William. While the western part of the boulevard retained its character, the area around present-day Bebelplatz was integrated into the fortification of Berlin in the aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War, visible until today as there are no trees.By the 19th century, as Berlin grew and expanded to the west, Unter den Linden became the best-known and grandest street in Berlin.
Great image. Looking up at Fernsehturm in the rain. And that’s where I was, on the lower row of small windows, peering down. Started to make our way – slowly – back towards the hotel. Passed through yet another Christmas market.
The atmosphere at this point became very movie-esque. The fairground vibe. The darkness and the rain. It was like gliding through a Bond movie. The Cold War. Spies like us.
Step up into a mysterious taverna, like a boudoir and gypsy wagon rolled into one… a drink or your fortune told, who knows what might happen once you climb those rickety steps and stoop inside.
Night lights. Big City. Berlin is a big heavy grey city with hidden jewels of light and mystery hidden away behind the concrete and iron seams.
Grey. Grey. Grey. Biting cold air and no sunlight. Back up Stresemannstraße, veering through Tiergarten before coming through the rectangular arches of Brandenburg Gate. Did some cafe cruising, delighted to find my old favourite Euro brand Segafredo popping up. Then it was time to do a tour, organised by SANDEMAN, who also do free tours. I paid £12 to join a tour of Red Berlin. I know enough about Hitler and his cronies and the rise of the SS. However, the period after WW2 and the political reasons for construction of the Berlin Wall on 13th August 1961 I knew much less about. The tour was led by a Dutch dude called Lewis. Really enjoyed his style and pace. Good sense of humour, he captivated his audience and led us across the city spinning and weaving historical stories that really brought the past to life. I would defo do one of these again.
The tour ended well after dark and I was out by East Side Gallery, where there is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall left for posterity. Made way back towards Alexanderplatz, found a nice Italian den to eat although I feel like I missed the main vein with where is good to get food in Berlin. But I was hungry and it was dark, and cold, and I’d already walked 12 miles and still had to get back to the hotel. You know how it is.
The evening saw me in the bar, supping more Black Print and now feeling like I am getting on top of the barrier / issue that has been blocking my progress and enthusiasm for writing Oakfield.
Thought about heading out for the night but I settled back into the leather embrace of the seat, very content to just be there, in the moment, with my thoughts, notes and nice wine.
Grey. Grey. Grey. Biting cold air and no sunlight. Final day. Checked-out and left bags with hotel. Big walk. Up into Mitte and the interesting area of Oranienburger and Sophienstraße. Memories of me in 2001, being 30 years old and a whole world away from who I am now. Cafes. Christmas markets. Photographs and note making. Finally back at hotel around 6pm. Time for a final glass of Black Print – I am going to have to get my hands on some of this via an importer here in England. Then taxi ride back to airport.
Relics of time past. The Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles), up until recently housed an artists collective which was finally closed after threats of eviction. Originally called “Friedrichsstadtpassagen”, it was built as a department store in the Jewish quarter of Berlin, next to the synagogue. Serving as a Nazi prison for a short while, it was later partially demolished. It was taken over by artists after the fall of the Berlin Wall; they called it Tacheles, Yiddish for “straight talking.” The building contained studios and workshops, a nightclub, and a cinema.
After visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau last year, these little pieces of memorial to mass murder of human beings always delivers a brutal kick to my memory.
After a BIG long walkaround via Mitte we found ourselves near Alexanderplatz again and again on the Under Linden. We stopped at this place and it was really, really nice. Jo grabbed an ENORMOUS hot chocolate with orange syrup and whipped cream – perfect for a freezing grey day.
By now the Christmas market that was still being set up yesterday was in full-effect. They were also charging people to get inside but that actually worked rather well. Absolutely fantastic atmosphere – great festive spirit and wonderful stalls.
We’ve walked about 12 miles and have been out most of the day. We checked out of the hotel before 11 but left our bags there and the plan is to get back and spend an hour in the warmth and luxurious space of the reception lobby and maybe even grab a glass of wine in the lovely bar. On the way we pass the old familiar Potsdamer Platz and the Christmas Market there. Sausages!!! SAUSAGES!!! And they’ve got this huge fire brazier with yellow flames dancing and pushing away the biting cold air. I can’t resist. We hang out there for a while as I munch through this monster. Nom nom nom!
In the chilly fog of the night, a church of strange angles stretches up towards distant constellations – reaching out with arcane and potent energies to those Ones who lurk beyond the threshold. This fantastic building was just around the corner from the hotel. Every night I walked past it I thought – damn that looks like a Cthulhu Church. The Starry Wisdon cult in Berlin, perhaps?
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