Tuesday, 4 August 2015
DDR pub etiquette
A couple of notes on DDR pub etiquette. Everywhere is waiter service only and no standing is allowed. Unfortunately chronic staff shortages (made worse by the recent exodus of many catering personnel to the west) mean that there are often insufficient waiters to serve the whole pub. Hence the 'reserviert' ('reserved') and 'bestellt' ('booked') signs sitting on tables which remain unused all day. It's not unusual for half the tables in a pub to be out of action in this way. It's also not a good idea to start moving chairs around from one table to another without asking, as the waiters often take offence (though the recent surge of visitors from the Federal Republic seems to have helped to loosen them up a little in this respect). All of this can make it difficult to find seats (and hence get a drink), especially for a large group of people. The best way around this is to turn up at an off-peak time (i.e. not 12 - 13 or after 21). Also bear in mind that closing time means what it says - it's when the pub will lock it's doors for the night, not last orders. Don't expect to get a drink in the last 15 minutes before closing.
Most pubs and restaurants are run by HO (Handelsorganisation), a state company which runs all types of retail outlets, including shops. The rarer private pubs are generally a little cosier and more personal inside, but have the same low fixed prices as the state enterprises.
Beer prices vary from about .80 M a half litre for hell to around 1.30 M for spezial or bock beers. W. German beer is about 4.00 M a half litre. Meals vary from around 2 - 5 M in a pub to 6 - 15 M in a hotel or posher restaurant. Don't assume that the latter will always assure you higher quality. Often the small and seemingly grotty corner pubs offer much better value in terms of quality and price, though the choice of meals may be limited.
Those intending to travel by rail should note that Deutsche Reichbahn's services are notoriously slow and unreliable. However, due to the lack of a Dr. Beeching there are still innumerable branch lines, making it possible to reach many quite small villages by rail, as long as you're patient. Most stations of any size have a Mitropa or buffet where hot food and drinks (including draught beer) can be purchased. When in a strange town desperate for a beer but unable to find a pub open, the local Mitropa is usually your best bet. They open seven days a week, from the early morning until 11 or 12 at night. But be warned that it seems to be increasingly difficult to obtain bottled beer in stations, so if you want some refreshment during your journey it's best to buy in a few bottles beforehand. On the main express routes the trains often have Mitropa buffet cars selling simple food and bottled beer. On busier trains, these are good for generating despairingly long queues.
That's made me feel all nostalgic. Going to Berlin soon. Noticed that there a recreation of a HO pub called Gaststätte W. Prassnik. Must drop by. I wonder if they have "reserviert" signs? It would be a nice touch.