Thursday, 18 August 2016


Dolores and I really got to know each other in Berlin. We’d met a few times, corresponded a lot. Truth comes when you look into each other’s eyes.

That we met in Berlin wasn’t by whim or design. We couldn't easily meet anywhere else, Dolores being a citizen of East Germany.

In the cold dark days of the, er, Cold War, travelling to an Eastern block country was a right palaver. You had to go to the embassy to apply for a visa. A total pain. Berlin, though, was another story.

Weird rules applied in Berlin. Despite being the capital of the DDR, you didn’t need a visa in advance like everywhere else in the country. You could buy one at the door. For 24 hours. Nae probs, a weekend is only 48 hours, just need to recross the border once. 

Already living in Amsterdam. I could jump on a train Friday night and be in Berlin by 6 AM. Leave East Berlin and re-enter it without leaving Friedrichstrasse station and get another 24 hours. Then take the night tram back to the flat. Happy days.

We must have spent at least a dozen weekends in Berlin in 1987 and 1988. Plenty of time to explore the city. My visa was only valid in Berlin, but fortunately the city’s boundaries are very generous. There was a large area I could legally visit. Though, in reality, I could probably have jumped on a train to Leipzig and no-one would have been the wiser.

I can’t remember why we visited Köpenick. It might have been because of the palace. There’s a baroque job that used to belong to the Prussian royal family. Frederick the Great used it. Or it may have been simply because that was as far as I could go and remain in Berlin.

Eating in the Ratskeller, I do remember. Under a grand gothic revival vaulted cellar. Quite posh, but, it being the DDR, still dirt cheap. For me. All those Ostmarks I was forced to buy had to get used up somehow. In particular, I remember what I drank. Because it was a first time thing. Tokay.

The Tokay I’d read about in Gide’s “Les Faux Monnayeurs”. It seemed wonderfully exotic. Not something I’d come across in the pubs of Leeds or Newark. Seeing it in the DDR was a surprise. It didn’t disappoint. Feeling supremely sophisticated, I sipped it slowly.

“Do you fancy going to Köpenick, Dolores?”

“What’s there?”

“Don’t you remember eating there before we were married? In the Ratskeller.”

“Yes. So?”

“Would you fancy going back? There’s also a little brewery close by.”

“Why is that no surprise?”

On the way to the S-Bahn station we drop by the Getränkemarkt. To look for Tannenzäpfle with the retro fifties label. I can’t find any so pick up a bottle of Tegernsee Spezial instead. Not sure why. But a spare bottle of beer is always handy to have to hand.

It’s a surprisingly quick journey, despite the distance and a change in Ostkreuz.  But I’m still in urgent need of a wee when we arrive in Köpenick.

“I need a wee. I’m going to nip into that pub.”

Dolores declines and heads instead for the chemist opposite.

It’s not the fanciest of pubs. But the barmaid insists on pouring my Pils the slow, multi-step way. All very nice, except when you’re waiting for her to finish so you can rush to the bog.

There’s a new shopping centre next to the station. That wasn’t there before. I remember it looking like typical late 19th-century Berlin. Except perhaps a little crumblier. Past the shopping centre, it’s more like what I remember. Though obviously much less crumbly.

When we get to the Rathaus I ask Dolores “Fancy eating in the Ratskeller?”

“It looks posh. Probably too expensive.”

I check the price list and it’s remarkably reasonable. Cheap enough even for Dolores. In Amsterdam we’d be limited to eating in FEBO for a similar price.

Inside it looks . . . . well, you’ll have to wait until next time to discover about Ratskeller’s interior. Because it’s time for my bed now.


Lee said...

You getting to be a bugger with your cliffhangers!

StuartP said...

Wasn't Queen Victoria a fan of Tokay?
I may be wrong, but I believe she used to keep quite a cellar.
I wonder if QE2 (the monarch, not the ship) keeps a supply.

BryanB said...


Anonymous said...

This is wonderfully evocative stuff. By any chance have you ever written about the fall of The Wall?

Ron Pattinson said...


yes, sort of. And about my DDR wedding. In my book DDR!, which I realise I've never got around to publishing. You can find some of the material here:

Matt said...

Eisenach is where the German Social Democrats held their founding congress in 1869.