Traveling around Berlin in Brandenburg – this is also a wine region, yes!

Brandenburg – wine region – are you serious? Yes I am.

Brandenburg is surrounding Berlin, and is located pretty far north in Germany. Too far north for wine, I always thought. But then I came across the book “Weinland Brandenburg” by Tom Wolf (be.bra Verlag Berlin 2016). Tom Wolf describes 31 vineyards in Brandenburg. Very interesting. I decided to explore some of them, when traveling in Brandenburg, the hinterland of my mother town Berlin.


Why are there wines in Brandenburg – so far north?

In early medieval times, Europe was christianized. As a consequence, monasteries were founded – also in Brandenburg. The monasteries needed wine for their cult and hence started to grow grapes for that, but perhaps the monks also enjoyed some of their wine from time to time.

It was Frederick the Great who stopped the wine production in Brandenburg in the early 18th century. He was of the opinion that potatoes are more useful – and he made his people cultivate potatoes instead of wine.  In addition there were more frequent frosts at that time that discouraged cultivating wine.

Shortly before the iron curtain fell and even more after the reunification of Germany, the tradition of cultivating wine took off again on some of the sunny hills that the monks had already selected earlier. Hills in Brandenburg are not high, but there are slopes that allow to produce wine, especially now with global warming. It may not be a Bordeaux or a Burgundy wine, but I found well made wine from biological production. Oh yes, some people say that wines from Brandenburg are sour – but I found them to be good companions for tasty local meals.

Let me tell you more about the monasteries and about the vineyards that we visited. Check out the book of Tom Wolf to find out more about 31 vineyards in Brandenburg.


Source: LBV Raumbeobachtung 2011


Potsdam: Frederick the Great had his own vineyard – nevertheless

Frederick the Great or, as we call him, der Alte Fritz, may have told his subjects to cultivate potatoes instead of wine, but… he had his own vineyard in Sanssouci – a patchwork of small greenhouses with stone walls and glass windows climbing up the hill to his intimate palace “Sanssouci”.

I had always thought that this wine garden in Potsdam is somewhat excentric… and now I know, cultivating wine here is not excentric, but it is an old tradition


Uckermark: Prenzlau – the monastery of the Dominicans  and the vineyard hanging on the town wall

Prenzlau (north of Berlin) is located on the northern shore of the Uckermark lake. The Dominicans founded a monastery here. In the former refectory some frescos have been renovated.

This beautifully carved altar shows the pastor with his sheep just arriving at the stable where Christ was born.

The monks needed wine for their cult and selected the town wall to capture the heat and light of the sun reflecting in the Uckermark lake. This southward looking slope is very warm, indeed. I could feel that even on a chilly day.

In 2013 the vineyard has been reinstalled for the LAGA which is a German garden exhibition (Landesgartenschau). The grapes planted are Regent (red) and Solaris (white). The wine is pressed in Pleisweiler in the Pfalz and can be bought in the tea- and wine house Gotzmann. (Tom Wolf, p. 207). Gotzmann was closed, when we were in Prenzlau, because it was a Sunday.


Lausitz/Spree: Welzow with a vineyard in the open cast mine and Dr. Martin Krause’s vineyard in Drebkau

We spent a few days in the Spreewald with its woods along ramifications of the Spree, where cucumbers become “Spreewaldgurken” in vinegar.

All of a sudden the forest opens and we see the open cast mine of Vattenfall near Welzow. A huge, huge desert. Villages had to  be sacrificed, one of them being Wolkenberg with a former tradition of wine growing. Vattenfall started to plant their deserted hole and local specialists are cultivating the wine called “Wolkenberg” that can now be tasted in local restaurants (Tom Wolf, p. 145). Well, Vattenfall undertakes a small effort to repair what they have destroyed. I just stopped to breathe, when I saw this naked landscape.

We selected the lookout point of Welzow, but from here, we could not see the vineyard.

Instead we found Dr. Martin Krause’s vineyard in Drebkau/Klein Ossnig.

Dr. Martin Krause has done research and found that about 50 winegrowers were active around Cottbus in the 16th century  There was a vineyard in Klein Ossnig that delivered wine to the monastery of Cottbus – look for the monks! (Tom Wolf, p. 163).


Fläming: Baruth and the Glashütte with the very special wine shop

In the southwest part of Brandenburg called “Fläming”, we visit the open air museum “Glashütte”. Beyond learning about how they made glass here, I buy three bottles of wine in the Weinsalon Glashütte:  Brandenburger Landwein from Zesch (Pinot white) and two bottles of Goldstaub with white wine made from the grapes Solaris and Helios that are common in this area. By the way, the wine saloon also offers wines from Moldovo and organizes events. A very inviting place.

Tom Wolf talks about the Weinberg Zesch that benefits from the lake of Zesch, not far from Baruth (p. 83). He also mentions the Mühlenberg in Baruth that produces the wine called “Goldstaub” – yes, there is a mill-wheel (Mühlrad) on the label (p. 89).

I have never tasted Solaris and Helios before and I am curious.


The monastery Lehnin and the vineyards in Werder one of them being the Wachtelberg

The monastery of Lehnin and the adjacent hospital are now run by deaconesses. By the way, this romanic monastery is called Le-H-nin (with an “h”).

The monastery owned various vineyards in Werder which is a quiet town spreading out widely on the shores of the Havel near Potsdam. The Wachtelberg was one of the vineyards and today it is a vineyard again. We found it amidst the houses of Werder. There is a wine bar (Weintiene) on top of the hill that is open in the afternoon.

Dr. Linicke started to grow wine in the late 80’s in the former GDR, but after the fall of the iron curtain, nobody was willing to buy wine from the “east”. In 1994 the wine production was restored, again involving Dr. Linicke (Tom Wolf, p. 33). Now he has installed the “Erlebniswanderweg Wachtelberg”: Each line of grapes is described in detail, like this line of Ruländer or Pinot Gris.


Wolanski and his Klosterhof Töplitz

Lara Wolanski does horse dressage and her father, Klaus Wolanski, started in 2007 to grow wine in Töplitz (Tom Wolf, p. 19). When we arrive at the Klosterhof, we find a message at the door: “Call me, I am happy to come”. Very soon a roaring noise announces the arrival of Klaus Wolanski. He comes on his small tractor and welcomes us with his black-white dog. He tells us that his wine production is based on biological principles. Here – so far north – the  grapes are not delicate, they do not need those strong pesticides, he says. There is grass in the vineyards that the sheep “cut”. The sheep also eat the leaves such that the grapes get more sun. They do not like the grapes, as long as they are sour, but – they would love them, once they are sweet. Hence these “helpers” have to stay outside now, in autumn.

We walk around in the area. There is a picnic place on top of the Töplitz hill. People used to flat land might be happy to recover from the steep ascent. And it must be a great place to celebrate.

We buy some wines – Riesling, Pinot Gris (both white) and Regent (red) – one bottle of Regent has matured in the barrel.

Annerös takes one bottle of Regent home. She drinks it with her husband, and they like it. Well made, they said. Soon after arriving at home, I shared the Grauburgunder or Pinot Gris with my neighbours. The wine was clean and freshly fruity – a  real “Ruländer”.


Not only wine, but also stronger stuff for the monks: The KlosterBruder

In the monastery of Zinna – also a Cistercian monastery founded in 1170 – they produce the “Zinnaer KlosterBruder” or “Zinna Monastery Brother”.  Right in the building under the clock.

It is a herb liquor that is supposed to be healthy (monks called their herb liquors “aqua vitae” (water of life) and used them as a medicine. The technique of distilling liquor has been known at least since the 12th century, perhaps even earlier.

There is a legend related to the “KlosterBruder”: A cavalier from the area was in love with a lady that was too noble for him. As he could not marry her, he went to the monastery, where he produced holy paintings with the face of his beloved noble lady. The abbot recognized the face and made him destroy his paintings. The monk obeyed and started to collect herbs. He invented the herb liquor “KlosterBruder” named after him and discovered that this drink made him feel cheerful and happy.

Herb liquors are not really my favourite drinks… To my opinion they taste like medicine.

But I like wine – and the wine culture in Brandenburg was a surprise for me. The wines make nice – though a bit unexpected – souvenirs from Brandenburg! And there are more vineyards to explore, when going back – at least 31 of them.

In addition, there is much more to see in Brandenburg – the early Slavic immigrants (Sorbs and Wends) and the ramifications of the rivers (Spreewald, Havelseen or Oderbruch). We found numerous castles (Wiesenburg, Eisenhardt, Lübbenau, the Fürst Pückler park with the duke’s castle or charming Sanssouci in Potsdam) and nice bigger and smaller cities (Bad Freienwalde, Jüterbog, Bad Belzig, Lübbenau or Brandenburg) with timbered houses and gothic churches and townhalls made out of brick (we call that German Backsteingotik – sometimes even Backsteinromanik). I will go there again. Perhaps for a bicycle tour.

Again in Berlin – catching up with the history of Prussia and enjoying Sans Souci

Another day of ours starts at the Gendarmenmarkt

From our hotel near Theodor Heuss Platz, the metro U2 takes us directly to Stadtmitte and to the Gendarmenmarkt – the French dome looks at us through the yellow leaves of late autumn.


“You do not know Fassbender&Rausch at the Gendarmenmarkt?” My friend asks me, “then come and have a look at their magic shop.” We enter and I am overwhelmed – the shop is full of so many shelves filled with chocolate delicacies. And out of chocolate they have built the Reichstag, the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche, the Brandenburgertor and a huge Santa Claus.


I almost feel bad: Is it not a waste to take tons of chocolate to cast buildings and santa clauses? Food is made for eating…

From Gendarmenmarkt it is just a few steps to the German Museum.


How did Berlin become the capital of Germany? How did it happen that the Hohenzollern from Prussia overtook the Habsburgians from Vienna?

Today I want to learn more about the rise of Prussia, the foundation of nowadays Germany and how Austria and the Habsburgians lost their dominant position visavis Prussia and the house of Hohenzollern in the 19th century. The German Museum (Deutsches Museum) is the right place to study that. Here we focus on the 18th and 19th century. I am writing down what I took with me from the excellent curation of the museum –  though not being a historian by profession.

The Holy German Empire had ceased to exist with Napoleon. After the Congress of Vienna (1815), a loose federation of German speaking principalities was founded. In this federation there was competition between the Hohenzollern (Prussia) and the Habsburgians (Austria). In 1866 Prussia won the battle of Königgrätz (today in Poland). The Prussian army used their strategy of independent commanding officers that were given their own targets to fight and bind Austrian forces at various front lines. In addition the Prussian king Wilhelm and his minister Bismarck were present in the battle motivating their army. The Austrian officers were not fully loyal to their general and emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria lost this battle. Without Austria, the Prussians founded the German Empire (Deutsches Reich) and Wilhelm II of Hohenzollern became emperor of this (reduced) Germany. The Habsburgians had been emperors of the (former) Holy German Empire for about 400 years and Franz-Josef now remained emperor of his multination empire Austria and king of Hungary (k&k monarchy).

BUT Prussia was a relative newcomer in the power play of German principalities: In the 17th century it had gained importance, thanks to the Great Elector Friedrich Wilhelm who prepared the ground for Prussia to become a kingdom in the Holy German Empire in 1701. Friedrich I, Friedrich Wilhelm I and Friedrich II the Great (nick named “Alter Fritz”) were the first kings of Prussia. Prussia formed a strong army to expand their territory and they lived religious tolerance which attracted Huguenots that were excellent craftmen and trademen. When Friedrich II conquered Silesia (Schlesien) in 1763, Prussia rose to the rank of one of the high power principalities alongside with Austria and Bavaria. The center of Germany (without Austria) moved to Berlin in the late 19th century after the victory of the Prussians over the Austrians in 1866. The new mighty city of Berlin needed representative buildings. Ostentatious Baroque buildings (such as the castle or Stadtschloss) and Neoclassic complexes (such as the Museumsinsel – island of museums – and the Dome of Berlin) were built during the rise of Prussia and for Berlin as a young capital. Modern Art houses on wide alleys were constructed and surrounding villages became part of Berlin. They needed to be connected which gave rise to the metro and S-Bahn network – planned with a broad mind and equipped with Modern Art stations. And after the Second World War and the fall of the Iron Curtain, modern architecture was added to rebuild Berlin (such as the Potsdamer Platz).

Now I understand: Prussia is a very successful newcomer in the power play of German principalities – this may be the reason, why I feel that the Prussian language is not always welcomed in the rest of Germany. Now I know, why I have learnt to be careful not to use my second language to aggressively.

In the evening we attend a concert in the Dome of Berlin – this manifestation of power. It is Mozart’s Requiem in f-Moll given by the Choir of the Johanneskirche Schlachtensee near Berlin. The acustics is great.  I particularly like the Alt voice of Franziska Markowitsch.



Visiting Potsdam and Friedrich II’s castle and park of Sans Souci

Early in the morning we take the S-Bahn (or Rapid Railway) to Potsdam. We enter the station at Heerstrasse. I enjoy the Modern Art construction of the 1920’s…


… and the humor of Berlin. When caught without ticket you do not pay a “penalty” of 60 Euros. No, what you pay is “erhöhtes Beförderungsgeld” or “an enhanced price for transportation”.


At Potdsdam Friedrich II the Great has built his charming small castle Sans Souci, …


… with the wine garden climbing up to his castle.


For his guests Friedrich II had the New Palais built (Neues Palais).  It is under permanent renovation and every time more of the luxury rooms are open. We attend a guided tour. This is the floor of the “cave” room…


… and this is a small piece of the Kibo summit, given to emperor William II by Hans Meyer who was the first to climb the Kilimanjaro in 1889 (he then named the highest point on the crater rim after Kaiser Wilhelm).


The bathroom of empress Augusta Victoria (the wife of emperor William II) was integrated in a wardrobe.


After having spent an hour in the chilly New Palais, we warm up by strolling through the park of Sanssouci with its teahouse…


… and its colorful November  atmosphere.


Friedrich II wanted to tear down this mill, because it was in his way. But the owner warned him that he would appeal to the court. The king was impressed and changed the plans for his park. The mill has been here until today.



Good-bye Berlin and see you next year

On Monday many, many Christmas markets opened in Berlin. One of them is at the Gendarmenmarkt where restaurants are inviting to eat.


We have dinner at the small Italian restaurant Adelino near our hotel and then I say good-bye to Berlin. I am pretty sure that I will return to my mother town next year.




Again – in Berlin, my mother town – welcome and Prenzlauerberg

It is mid November 2016.  Again I am in Berlin, my mother town, just for a few days. I  say hello to some of my favorite places, want to discover some new places and meet friends.


Berlin is welcoming me

As always I am welcomed by Berlin in the modern Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche called “powder box”. I love the solemn atmosphere produced by the blue stain windows. The floating Christ figure looks to me as if he would bless the church and its visitors.


Next stop is in the traditional shop Kadewe, where I have my Büsümer Krabbensüppchen (shrimps soup from Büsüm on Sylt) – as always delicious.

I move on to Dussmann in Friedrichstrasse and find the book: “Weinland Brandenburg” by Tom Wolf, 2016. “Wine in Brandenburg? Is this not the land where there is nothing but sand?” Tom Wolf asks and then describes 31 wine growers. Perhaps I should plan to go for a bike tour around Berlin? Who would like to join me? This is the map taken from the book.



Prenzlauerberg – charming mix of small shops, restaurants, markets and culture

I have a dinner appointment in Prenzlauerberg. Metro number 2 takes me there and I dive into the charming mix of small shops, restaurants, markets and culture. The “Kleine Eiszeit” sells ice cream, but is closed during winter. They are looking forward to March 2017, when the “small Ice Age” will start again.


This shop is open – and he announces it in Berlinese – “is uff” or “ist offen” (meaning “is open”).


The shop’s layout shows a good taste for colors.


The shop next door seems to have a more international clientèle.


This restaurant recommends to have a chat with one another.


And not far from here I am tempted to buy loads of children’s books in the small bookshop that attracts clients with this fairy tale quote.


“Who drinks from me, will be a deer. Who drinks from me, will be a deer.” Do you know the fairy tale? – It is “Brüderchen und Schwesterchen” or “Little Brother and Little Sister” by the Brothers Grimm.

The Old Brewery (which is now a cultural center with restaurants) is busy setting up its Christmas market.


At Kollwitz square I find a busy market. First I try Kwas over a chat with Russians. And then I exchange memories with a Mongolian lady and try her milk drink and some Mongolian ravioli – delicious – bairlla or thank you.


With a Vietnamese meal in noisy Umami at Knackstrasse and a quiet apero in the friendly restaurant Breslau at Sredzkistrasse I finish off my day, with a friend of mine from Poland.


My second day: Pouring rain

In the pouring rain I walk from Potsdamer Platz to the Hacke’scher Markt. The sky IS grey and so is the TV tower on Alexander Platz, seen from the small promenade along the Spree.


The pouring rain makes me buy a warm rain coat lined with fleece. I get it at Freitag’s in the Hacke’sche Höfe – the shopkeeper is exactly my age and we have a long chat, also about a duchess that bought some 25 coats and jackets here, not for herself, but for the model dolls in her villa. She walks around them to enjoy the beauty of what she has acquired. Berlin can be a crazy town.

I close off the day with one of my best friends… in the restaurant Pastis at Rüdesheimerplatz, where the owner and her staff speak French. Our meals are delicious.



On the road – discovering the Reichstagskuppel and Rixdorf in Berlin

Berlin never stops to have suprises for me. This time I explore the Reichstagskuppel and the village Rixdorf.


The cupola of the Reichstag (Reichstagskuppel)

The architect Norman Foster has renovated the Reichstag incorporating modern elements. The most visible modern element is the cupola. The long queuing lines had always discouraged me to visit the cupola. To avoid the lines, Sabine has ordered tickets and reserved two seats in the restaurant Käfer next to the cupola.


The cupola gives light to the plenary chamber with its white eagle. From the cupola we cannot see the plenary chamber. We walk up and down the revolving stairs and enjoy the view of the city. In the restaurant Käfer we share a meal – it is Buletten for me, the Berlin interpretation of  “hamburgers” that my mum had often prepared, when I was a child.

Today it is hard for me to imagine that the wall separating West and East Berlin was right behind the building of the Reichstag – but I remember those years.



One afternoon, my friend Antoinette takes me to Rixdorf which is part of Neukölln. “In search of Rixdorf” is a blog that nicely tells about the history and the ambiance today. In 1737 King Friedrich Wilhelm I. had invited protestants from Bohemia (Böhmen)  to settle near Rixdorf. Here he is – proudly overlooking the Richardplatz. This square is at the heart of Rixdorf.


This panel points to the Bohemian brother community of Rixdorf.


The Bethlehemkirche (church) at Richardplatz dates from the late 14th century. It was rebuilt after a fire in the middle of the 17th century reusing the old gothic elements. The entrance is below the surface of the Richardplatz.


The Rixdorf of the Bohemians has kept its rural character.   We stroll along the cobbled streets.


Returning back to busy Karl Marx Strasse, we stop in the Café Rix (Saalbau Neukölln) to share a cup of coffee and a piece of cake in the inviting garden.


On the way to the metro, we come across the Rathaus Neukölln.


At Hermannplatz we take the metro U7 that rattles under the ground. In the dark tunnels, Antoinette sighs: “I prefer to travel above ground”. We soon say good-bye and I continue my way underground, back to Theodor Heuss Platz and the comfy hotel Kastanienhof. Thank you, Antoinette, it was a great experience to see the village of Rixdorf – one more village that also is part of the big city of Berlin. Berlin never stops to have suprises for me.

On the road – three new cultural adventures in Berlin

Always new things to discover – Berlin is large and it is evolving quickly

Whenever I come back to Berlin, I keep on finding that I still do not know everything. This time I had three new cultural experiences:

  • the Berlin Philharmonie
  • the inauguration of the society of friends of the Museum of Music Instruments,
  • the Martin Gropius building with an exhibition about the Vikings.


The Berlin Philharmonie: The concert with the promising and young conductor Andris Nelsons

Of course I had often looked at the Berlin Philharmonie, the concert hall with the courageous tent like roof that caused it to be called “Circus Karajan” (according to the famous conductor of the time). The concert hall has been built in the sixties of the last century. Now I entered the Berlin Philharmonie for the first time.

Sabine noticed that there are still tickets available for the concert of the promising young conductor Andris Nelson. He conducts a piano concert by Mozart, “Burleske” (also with piano) by Richard Wagner and “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Wagner. Emanual Ax will play the piano. We order tickets for Friday, October 17th.

Entering the Berlin Philharmonie, I indeed feel like in a circus. The roof is hanging high above us and we reach our seats using a maze of staircases. On the way to my seat, I notice the Sony Center just in front of the window. The Sony Center? So close? Hence they have built the concert hall in close vicinity of the Berlin wall! 50 years ago they built it at the periphery of West Berlin, overlooking the muddy grass pit that then was the Potsdamer Platz. And now, the Berlin Philharmonic is rounding off the burstling Potsdamerplatz that has emerged simce the wall has disappeared.

I take my seat. Below me there are the fortepiano and the empty places for the musicians. Almost every seat in the audience is taken.


I enjoy the concert. The young conductor is full of energy. I notice myself copy his movements (more in mind) – for me they “reflect” the music. Mozart’s harmonies always calm me down. The Burleske of Strauss I find more difficult to listen to. In the lucent wood above the piano keys I sometimes watch the agile hands of Emanuel Ax. After the break, “Also sprach Zarathstra” starts very loudly. Nelsons conducts a much larger orchestra now. The banging start is too loud for me – like a shock. But the critique seems to like this start. As the flow continues more quietly, I try to understand, what Zarathustra is saying. While I liked to watch this conductor that shows emotion, the critique concludes that Nelsons has not yet reached the maturity to take over the Berlin Philharmonics from Simon Rattle. Well, I am not an expert at all. Can it be that the high average age of conductors determines, how much body movement ia allowed to young conductors?


Museum of Musical Instruments (Musikinstrumentenmuseum)

Just next door to the Berlin Philharmonie, there is the Museum of Musical Instruments. Wikipedia says “The Museum holds over 3,500 musical instruments from the 16th century onward and is one of the largest and most representative musical instrument collections in Germany.” Here is a selection of three instruments.




The museum is also proud of its mighty Wurlitzer.

On Sunday October 19th, the museum invites for the “Fest der Freunde” (party of the friends) to celebrate the foundation of the society that will support the Museum of Musical Instruments. Antoinette, my friend from school times, told me about the event. Conny guides through the museum, explains the background of the key instruments and has samples played (sometimes she plays herself). Andreas presents his evaluation of one clavichorde from around 1800. It has very unusual design, as it has a second sound board and the sound board is not well strutted. The builder wanted to make the clavichorde louder, but this design made the instrument less loud. “I think this is not a good development”, Andreas says politely. Now he considers to renovate the clavichorde as is – and then it cannot be played well – or to document the status and reonovate it such that it can be played properly. Very interesting.


Wikingerausstellung in Martin Gropius House

Also not far from the Potsdamerplatz there is the Martin Gropius House. Gropius? I expect a modern building in the Bauhaus style. And then – I find this classical late 18th century building. The explanation: Martin Gropius is not Walter Gropius, but his great uncle. Walter Gropius was a member of the Bauhaus, not Martin. And this is why, it is not a Bauhaus building, but has a more classical appearance.


The Martin Gropius House hosts excellent temporary exhibitions. Currently there is an exhibition about the Vikings. In the central court yard there are the remains of a boat – a viking longship. It was 37m long. Just the wooden bottom of the ship has been preserved. Metallic sticks have been added to give the idea of the longship. A lady teacher explains the boat to her boys and girls. Her presentation is lively and highly interactive. To round it off, she asks the children to draw a boat. One boy draws a wonderful sailing boat with a huge veil that inflates in the wind. He shows it proudly to Sabine.

Detailed topics are elaborated in the rooms around the central court yard. We have received audio guides with one track for children and one track for grown-ups. We both prefer the track for chlidren. In a dramatic tone, the voice says that Harald Blauzahn had a challenging life. In the tenth century he ruled over Denmark and Norway. He was invading the Normandie – successfully -, but Otto I (the strong ruler of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) withstood his attacks. Harald Blauzahn adopted the Christian religion. On display is his rune stone that says: “King Harald ordered that this monument was made for his father Gorm and his mother Tyra, by Harald who subdued Denmark and Norway and converted the Danes to Christianity.” After the visit I google a bit, and I discover that I have met Harald Blauzahn before… under the name of “Bluetooth” which is a communication protocolle named after “Harald Blauzahn” – or “Harald Bluetooth”: The logo shows his initials in rune script (source: Wikipedia on Harald Blauzahn; see also the report of Stern: “Ein Wikinger namens Blauzahn“).

The Vikings were feared for their attacks, especially along the Atlantic and the Mediterranian coast line as well as along the rivers that they could reach from the Baltic Sea. They also traded. Some of their trading ports were Novgorod and Kiev. They founded the Kievian  Rus – the Ruriks were the first Russian emperor  dynasty (until 1610). The vikings also settled in Greenland and found North America. The rooms around the central yard illustrate their achievements. In the 11th century one of the Viking trading business models was no longer applicable: Christianity did not accept slavery between fellow Christians. The northern Christian kingdoms started to emerge (see Wikipedia about the vikings).


Well, Berlin always has some new insights ready for me.




On the road – coming across humor in Berlin

Berlin humor is special and refreshing, I believe

I enjoy the humor in Berlin.

For instance the buildings all have an official name as well as a second name. – such as the Victory Goddess on the Victory Column in Tierpark is called “Goldelse” (Golden Elsa). The Funkturm is the “Langer Lulatsch” (Long Guy). The TV Tower is named “Samkt Ulbricht” (after the GDR minister Ulbricht) or “Die Rache des Papstes” (The Venge of the Pope), as it shows a cross on the restaurant platform, when the sun shines (unthinkable for the GDR). The University Library has always been the “Kommode” (Commode, also my mum would always talk about the Commode). The Congress Hall is the “Schwangere Auster” (Pregnant Oyster), because of the shape that reminds of an oyster. There are many more of these  surnames – and they are consistently used in Berlin.

The people from Berlin are also good at telling anectodes. I like this one (though it is a little chauvinistic): Two cars stand in front of the red light, in the first car a lady, in the second car an impatient man. The light changes to green. The man shouts at the lady in the first car “Jriener wird’s nicht mehr” (it will never become greener or grüner wird es nicht mehr).


This time I come across rubbish bins full of humor

With humor the government of Berlin now tries to motivate the population to use the rubbish bins. This one says “heap helper”. Obviously a success – I have not come across any of these small heaps in Berlin.


This second bin invites smokers to use it for their cigarette butts, called Kippen.Literally translated, this is a “servant for cigarette butts”


And in this bin we can save CO2. Literally it is a “savings box for CO2”.


The last bin in these series just reminds to behave properly in the city center or in the middle of Berlin (called “Mitte”). Literally: “Good manners in the metropolitan area “Mitte””. This rhymes well in  German.


The traditional Berlin dialect that my mum spoke has almost disappeared in Berlin. I enjoy to hear it, when I come across it. Near Alexanderplatz I was not sure whether I found the right bus to Pankow – and the driver said simply: “Gen Se rin” which in Berlin slang means “enter” (Gehen Sie hinein). The slang is now almost restricted to former East Berlin – and it has a slightly rough and at the same time humorous touch – like some of the slogans on the rubbish bins.

On the road again – as always saying hello to my favorite places in Berlin

Berlin – simplified map with hints

This is a very simplifiied map of Berlin with “my” main traffic lines: The S-Bahn, U2 and Bus number 100 between Bahnhof Zoo and Alexanderplatz are a wonderful way to explore the sprawled city center of Berlin – and to say hello to my favorite places – all in one.



Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche with “Powder Box”

I take the metro U2 and leave it soon again at Bahnhof Zoo. The metro “disgorges” me just in front of the “Puderdose” or  “Powder Box”. This is the nickname that Berlin gave to the modern Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche. I love to welcome Berlin in the “Powder Box” with its blue stained windows and the golden sculpture of Christ. I stand still for a while and breathe.


Outside are the “Hollow Tooth” (the nickname for the ruins of the old church) and the Lip Stick” (the new church tower). This is an older picture, the “Lip Stick” is currently under renovation.

Berlin 2008 066

I stroll down Ku’damm and Tauentzienstrasse towards Wittenbergplatz with my favorite metro station and the “Kaufhaus des Westens” or “KadeWe”.


KadeWe is a posh shopping mall that even has great design for dogs – well, perhaps I would not dress up my dog like this, if I had one.


The 6th floor hosts delicacies from wine, chocolate, fish, oysters – just about everything… I will come back for lunch to eat a Bouillabaise and later to eat a shrimp  soup (Büsumer Krabbensuppe).


Metro station Wittenbergplatz

Under the iron construction of my favorite metro station Wittenbergplatz,


there are posters from the twenties in the last century – like this one announcing the “newest” Opel-Hetzer – well it was new at the time the metro was constructed.




I catch U2 again, and a few stations later I am at Postdamerplatz. I feel very small between the skyscrapers – among them the Sony Center – and enter the Arcades (Arkaden).


There is an exhibition about the Berlin wall that separated the town from 1961 (though Ulbricht said that no one could think of building a wall) up to 1989 (when the iron curtain fell and people climbed over the wall).


Pupils walk around with questionnaires. One boy looks at me: “Do you know the answer to this question – does the wall (or their remains) belong to the Unesco world heritage?” I frown. I cannot think that anything that dreadful is eligible for the list of world heritages. The answer is in wikipedia: The wall has been proposed, but not accepted. The boy apologizes: “I have a disorder that cannot be diagnosed, I always make mistakes, when I write.” I frown again. I remember that at school my teacher was desparate about all the orthograpic corrections in whatever I wrote. I say: “I have had that as well, it has never been diagnosed and it disappeared.” The boy looks at me and repeats in earnest: “I have an undiagnosed disorder…” What are these school psychologists doing to the kids today? Destroying their motivation to learn and improve?


The Gendarmenmarkt

Again I go down under earth to take U2. I leave it at “Berlin Mitte”. The metro disgorges me just in front of the German dome that marks the southern end of the Gendarmenmarkt. To the north is the French dome.


Do I feel like a coffee? There are many inviting coffee places here. No, not yet. I go back to U2 to leave it again at Alexanderplatz.



From Alexanderplatz I walk over to the all dominating TV tower and to the Marienkirche. The TV tower shows no cross on the restaurant floor today, as the sky is cloudy (there is a cross, as soon as the sun shines, and this is why the tower is called “Sankt Ulbricht”).

The Marienkirche is one of the oldest churches in Berlin, from the 14th century.


Just across the street there is a bus stop. I catch bus number 100 here to take my way back to Bahnhof Zoo staying above the ground. We roll along Unter den Linden with the Museumsinsel (my favorite: The Pergamon museum and the museum of German history). The Prussian king Frederic the Great (nicknamed “Alter Fritz”) watches his castle now being reconstructed.


May be “Alter Fritz” frowns a bit, as for now his castle are nothing but walls made out of concrete. I do not think that he has ordered these construction techniques to be used.

After having crossed Friedrichstrasse, we can see the Brandenburger Gate. Bus number 100 turns northwards to the Reichstag and traverses Tiergarten with the Victory Column (“Goldelse”, as Berlin calls her). Eventually we reach Bahnhof Zoo, the endstation.


S-Bahn to Hacke’sche Höfe

Later I come back with Sabine, my friend, to take the S-Bahn from Bahnhof Zoo. After the Hauptbahnhof, we stand at the window in order to not miss the quick glance of the Swiss flag amidst the German government buildings (“Regierungsviertel”). Switzerland owns ground here and has built its embassy.

Shortly afterwards, the S-Bahn stops at Hacke’scher Markt. From here it is a few meters to the Hacke’sche Höfe.


We both love to come here. We buy some small Ampelmann gifts. We enjoy the elegance of the Royal (KPM) porcelain . I have  Klopse in the restaurant Oxymoron. With Sabine’s advise, I buy a waterproof raincoat at the FREItag shop.  It is a black trenchcoat with a colored pattern at the sleeves and the collar. There is always something to see and do in the Hacke’sche Höfe. Well, yes, many people complain that this is no longer what the Hacke’sche Höfe have been before 1989 – but I think times are allowed to change, and Berlin has changed a lot since then, not only in the Hacke’sche Höfe.

Again, the S-Bahn, U2 and Bus number 100 between Bahnhof Zoo and Alexanderplatz have proven to be a wonderful way to explore the sprawled city center of Berlin.








On the road again – arriving in Berlin

Planning to visit my mother town

After having discovered so much around my home town Basel, I feel homesick for my mother town Berlin. Sabine has booked two rooms in the Hotel Villa Kastania. I look forward to strolling through Berlin – first alone, then on the weekend – with her.


Arriving in the old Berlin Schöneberg airport with S-Bahn on strike

Easyjet loses height and the Müggelseen (lakes)  appear in the window.


We land softly at the sober ex-GDR airport of Schönenberg in the far south east of Berlin. It is about five pm.  Immediately I notice that I am in a large town: Plates announce that the S-Bahn is not working due to strikes. Strikes – this is unknown in Switzerland. Shall I take a taxi? – Probably not a good idea. Instead I opt for the bus X7. Good decision. From the bus I can see traffic jams being announced. My bus quickly reaches the Rudow metro station.  The metro is packed with people that try to get home using alternatives to the S-Bahn. At Bismarckstrasse I switch to the Ruhleben metro  (I like this – Ruhleben means “quiet life”). I reach Theodor Heuss Platz about an hour after having landed.


The quiet and friendly Hotel Villa Kastania

Just around the corner of Theodor Heuss Platz I find my Hotel Villa Kastania and settle in a quiet room. The restaurant looks welcoming. I take my dinner here: Liver cooked with apple and ognion – one of the dishes that my mum has brought me up with. Well, the hotel restaurant serves a “design version” of this common and delicious Berlin specialty.


After having slept deeply in the quiet Kastanienallee, I take a swim in an Italian garden under a blue sky with a few cyrrhus clouds.


Hungry I go to the breakfast room, and I am surprised by the morning buffet: It even includes fresh oranges and an orange squeezer. I have never had freshly pressed orange juice at a hotel breakfast buffet before.

After the delicious breakfast I leave to see my favorite spots in Berlin again.


Saying hello to some of my favorite spots in Berlin

On Monday, I walked around Berlin, with the voice of my mum in my ears. As a Berliner, she always warned me not to underestimate the distance that I can walk. “This is not a small town like Basel”, she said, “beware of that.”

From Friedenau to Breitenbachplatz

From my cosy Literaturhotel in Friedenau I walked to Schlossstrasse and through the Treitschke Park (very nice layed back streets where must be good to live) to the Breitenbachplatz. By looking at the map, I expected a footwalk of half an hour, but Mum you are right… it was almost an hour. The Breitenbachplatz is surrounded by houses under monument protection. I met a friend here.

From Breitenbachplatz to Wittenbergplatz

Alfred Grenander was the architect of the U-Bahn or metro in Berlin. He was a very thoughtful architect. Each metro station has tiles in a different color. And at Wittenbergplatz the station is covered by a nice modern style building.


I say hello and move on to the top floor of Kadewe, which hosts one of the greatest gourmet food stores I know. It is time to eat.



I enjoy a delicious shrimp soup from Büsüm (Sylt).

Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche

I love the dark blue ambiance in the new church of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche; due to its shape the church is also called “powder box”. The original church has been left as a ruin, and now it is completely hidden behind scaffolds. Around the church are many, many souvenir and curry sausage kiosks. And the whole Ku’dam area is under construction.



Hacke’sche Höfe

I take the S-Bahn (town train) and through the window I proudly look at the Swiss embassy that stands in the middle of the German government area (there are rumors that the German government wanted to acquire the land from Switzerland, without success).

Train station “Hacke’scher Markt”. I stroll through the many courtyards of what is called Hacke’sche Höfe and buy ear rings. I love the atmosphere with restaurants, galleries, small shops for jewellery, clothing, soap, and – one of my prefered shops – the Ampelmann (the red and green man in the pedestrian crossing traffic light of Berlin). Ernst also loved this shop and we have a mouse mat from them.


Marienkirche and Neptun Fountain under Sankt Ulbricht

A short break of reflection in the quiet Marienkirche and a hello to Neptun sitting on top of his fountain. Both in the shade of Sankt Ulbricht, the TV tower. There is a cross shining on the tower restaurant, when the sun is out. The story goes that everybody called this tower “Sankt Ulbricht”, and the architect tried to convince Ulbricht that this is not a cross, but a “plus” for socialism…



Construction is going on here as well… “in Berlin wird jebuddelt”. I continue to walk.

To the Schlossplatz and Unter den Linden

What is this? A huge huge hole… it is the hole that the Palace of the Republic has left. There is an information booth called Humboldtbox. Later Antoinette tells me that they plan to rebuild the castle and are now digging out the fundaments.


I turn to the German History Museum. For 8€ I stroll through German history until 1918. Well curated. There are panels giving a brief overview of the period and next to it, there are the artefacts from the time or pictures and later fotos about it.

Destroyed diversity also has a special exhibition. I always feel ashamed for my German roots, when being reminded of what happened 80 years ago: The propaganda, the denunciation of those being perceived to be different and then the subsequent mass executions. I came across Carl Peters who had been integrated in the national propaganda, as he had founded the East African colony (though he died in 1918). The Nazis made a film about him in which the former Askari from Kenya, Bajume Mohammed bin Hussein, fought on the side of Hans Albers. Shortly afterwards he was arrested and died in the camp.

Hello Alter Fritz

I stop by at the monument of Friedrich the Great in Unter den Linden, greet him and apologize that this time I will not visit him in Potsdam and in his pretty castle Sanssouci.


A quick glance at the Brandenburgertor


… and then I take the S-Bahn back to Friedenau. My mum was always proud of the S-Bahn that proves the vision of the government of Berlin in the early 20th century… it allows to overcome the large distances in Berlin efficiently (much quicker than by walking).

Literature and destroyed diversity – 80 years ago in Berlin


The French and German Cathedral on the Gendarmenmarkt

The Gendarmenmarkt is one of my favorite spots in Berlin. Memories are tied to it. Around 1966, there were three black ruins here, and my mum (she knew the past beauty of this square) was very sad. When I came back in the 90’s, the cathedrals were beautifully restored. Ernst and I visited the museum about the Huguenots that Friedrich the Great had welcomed in Berlin. The French Cathedral was for them. Back later again… with Ernst in the Konzerthaus. And today, Antoinette takes me to the French Cathedral. Two priests are reading about the diversity in literature that has been destroyed 80 years ago (Dr. Jürgen Kaiser and Dr. Matthias Loerbroks). Here are two thoughts that I took with me.

Berlin and Babel – both striving for unity and destroying diversity

Berlin 80 years ago and Babel in the bible have similarities. Both towns longed for unity… unity of language, unity of thought, unity of the peoples, unity of art, unity of architecture (symbolized by the one tower of Babel). Yes, unity is easier to handle than diversity which is complex. But the bible condemns such unity and says that destroying diversity is sinful. Diversity is what the bible asks for… diversity is, the priests say, what God wants. But 80 years ago Berlin became a second Babel and destroyed diversity. Sorely, the priests admit that the church then supported the destruction of diversity.

Written text can be destroyed, but not the words (and thoughts)

80 years ago Berlin burnt books that did not conform to the unity of thought, not far away from the cathedral. The bible describes a similar burning of books. In Jeremias 36, God asked Jeremias to write down the history of Israel and Juda. The text was read out to Jojakim, the king of Juda. He cut the written text into pieces and burnt it. But Jojakim could only burn the written text, not the words. Jeremias wrote them on paper again. Similarly burning books in Berlin just destroyed the written text, but not the words and thoughts.

The devil in Bulgakow’s “Master and Margarita”

Master burns his book about Pontius Pilatus that had not been accepted for publication. Towards the end of this wonderful story, at the devils’ party, the devil Voland pulled Master’s book from the fire and says that his manuscripts cannot be destroyed. Did Bulgakow have Jeremias 36 in mind, when he wrote this? And, I understand, that this was a hidden hint to another ruler who tried to destroy diversity.

Dr. Kaiser invited the community into the garden of the parish hall in Taubenstrasse, where barbecue, salad, water, cake and coffee were waiting for us in the warm sun. We all sat together and chatted. Now, Dr. Kaiser will read “Master and Margarita” – his organist (from the former GDR) promised to lend him his copy and confirmed enthusiastically that it is worth reading.