Let’s assume you have booked into your accommodation, had a shower and turned on the TV to discover to your great joy that there are multiple channels. When you realise however that some of them show “Big Bang Theory” (dubbed into German) 24 hours a day you may wish you had chosen Bankstown instead of Europe for your holiday. Be warned also that some Berlin TV channels show episodes of “The Saint” from the Sixties with a suave Roger Moore speaking Berliner dialect. OK, towel yourself dry, put some clothes on and get ready to explore Berlin.
First up, walk back to Pariser Platz. If you’ve been paying attention you will walk back to the Brandenburg Gate. If not, Google Pariser Platz. When you get there, the Tourist Information Office is in the little temple-shaped building to the left of the Brandenburg Gate, helpfully marked here with a red arrow for those who think 24 hour reruns of “Big Bang Theory” is a good thing. There is also a red sign with a white “i” in the window for the chronically inattentive:
The office is generally crowded but offers a supply of good-to-great tourist merchandise. Before you dive into the treasure trove of Berlin fridge magnets and tea towels go to the information desk and buy two things. First get a travel pass. They come in various denominations: day, three-day, six-day etc (from memory). They are well worth the money and will get you all over Berlin. They work on the U Bahn (a subway-like rail system), the S Bahn (sometimes a subway, sometimes a train) and buses. You must remember to validate your ticket the first time you use it. It’s a bit like an Opal card (if you’re Australian, or at least a Sydneysider) or an Oystercard (if you are a Pom, or at least a Londoner) except you only validate it the first time you use it. When you get on your first U Bahn/S Bahn train or bus there is a small machine just inside the door, or alternatively there’s usually one on the platform. (They are red I seem to recall.) Bung your ticket in (the correct way) and you will hear a ding! unless you are deaf like me in which case you won’t hear much at all. This deafness is not such a bad thing on some German trains as will become apparent. Once your ticket is validated you then have a day, three days or six, depending on which one you bought, in which to travel throughout the city of Berlin and you don’t have to ding your ticket again. The first time marks the time and date you started your adventure: just be sure not to overstay your allotted time.
The really bizarre thing about the Berlin U Bahn is that periodically, i.e. almost every trip, some of those serial harassers you avoided at the Hauptbahnhof (see second post) will turn up on your train with musical instruments. I kid you not. Some of these instruments are amplified and you are ‘treated’ to a rendition of some bloody awful folk song or other atrocity. Seriously, these people will get on your train and just when you are daydreaming about whether to start your Berlin holiday with a Berliner Kindl or a Radeberger ale, your thoughts will be interrupted by someone bellowing out an old ex-favourite like “Wooden Heart” or “Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop”. Now what would normally happen in Australia is that the passengers would patiently wait until the train crossed a bridge and would then unite to throw the pest, instrument and all, out the door. The Germans are more tolerant of unsolicited noise than they are of people being thrown from trains (or at least they are these days) so no-one, except me, complains when these musical terrorists then pass the hat around for donations. Once again, politely decline and they will leave you alone.
The second thing you should buy at the tourist office is a copy of this:
but only if you are interested in this period of German history. The book is excellent, so much so that, IMO, a wise person would order a copy over the Internet (Abe Books has it, for example) and use it as pre-reading for your trip. Any of the books by Tony Le Tissier would serve as an excellent guide but they are a bit bulky to be lugging around and you would stand out as a tourist like the proverbial male canine’s reproductive storage units:
However, if your idea of learning about history stems from watching The World at War, The History Channel or SBS documentaries you should have gone to Disneyland instead.
Berlin is full of great restaurants. I will recommend only three, all on the Wilhelmstrasse and all within a block or two of each other. I’ve already recommended the Viale, on the corner of Behrenstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse. The Viale is mainly a pizza place but is a little more upmarket than your basic Crust pizza. Not cheap but good. It’s only a short block from Unter den Linden, past the British Embassy. This is what the Viale looks like again, in case you missed the earlier post (the green line indicates where the Hitler Youth had established a barricade against the Russians in 1945, just one block from Hitler’s bunker):
Further down Wilhelmstrasse – about one block, maybe two if you count An Der Kolonnade as a street, which I suppose it really is these days although it didn’t exist before 1945 – is the Peking Ente, a Chinese restaurant. If you are going shopping at the Berlin Mall (great pun, BTW) you will walk past it as it is on the opposite corner to the Mall. This building – the Peking Ente – is interesting for a number of reasons. If I’ve read James P. O’Donnell’s “The Bunker” correctly, the Mohnke breakout group smashed a cellar window from this site after Hitler’s suicide and ran across the road to Mohrenstrasse U Bahn station (which at the time was Kaiserhof U Bahn station) to start their breakout. When you get there you’ll be surprised at how close the Peking Ente is to the entrance to the station. Mohnke’s breakout group would have had to run about 100 metres. The O’Donnell book is, IMO, the best book on the bunker even though – or maybe in this case because -it is written by a journalist:
Secondly, the restaurant advertises itself as being on the site of Hitler’s Chancellery. I don’t believe it is. I believe it’s on the site of the Borsig Palace which was the only building on Vossstrasse not to be demolished during the building of Hitler’s New Reich Chancellery. Also, the line of buildings currently on that part of Wilhelmstrasse is, IMO, moved back about ten metres from the original Wilhelmstrasse frontage. The Borsig Palace, from memory, served as the headquarters of the emasculted SA after the Night of the Long Knives. For some reason, ( according to the excellent DVD series Atelier-Neubauer, it was because the Borsig family had been keen supporters of Hitler in the early days) Hitler and Speer decided to incorporate it into the New Reich Chancelleryt. Here is what it looked like:
In the photo above, the Mohrenstrasse U Bahn entrance in just behind the statue of the General at lower right, so the breakout group had run across this road from roughly where the Borsig Palace was. This is what it looked like after the war:
If you’ve been paying attention, you will now know that all of those buildings on the left of the photo have been replaced by the Berlin Mall. The only surviving prewar building on either side of Vossstrasse is the one arrowed (with the balconies) and there will be a post on this building later. This what it looked like in 2013 ( you will notice that the statue of the General has been replaced, pretty much in the same spot):
And here is where the restaurant stands on almost the same spot as the Borsig Palace today:
The Peking Ente is a very good if a little expensive Chinese restaurant. Their other selling point is that some American star ate there – I think it may have been Barbra Streisand. If you find this a sufficient motive to eat there, you should be watching “The Block” or “My Laundry Rules” or something.
My favourite Berlin restaurant, however, lies roughly between the Viale and the Peking Ente at (from memory again) 77 Wilhelmstrasse. It’s the Alt-Berliner Wirtshaus and it’s such a great restaurant I feel like getting on a plane back to Berlin now. Not too pricey and it has that wonderful gemütlichkeit (means … um…’comfortable’ or ‘hospitable’. Difficult to translate) often found in cosy English pubs.
Despite the racket found on their website: http://www.altberliner-wirtshaus.de/ they don’t have that hokey German folk music blaring out like in some Sydney faux German restaurants. Just great food and great beer and it’s especially nice if you’re there in good weather as you can sit outside and watch the girls pass by in their summer clothes enjoy the sunshine.