Friday, 11 August 2017


We’re up pretty early for a busy day. Lots of stuff planned. Starting with brekkie.

Breakfast is one of the main reason we stay at Opstalboom. They have a good buffet spread. Fried stuff for me, herring and cake for Dolores. Though obviously she doesn’t eat the two together.

The weather isn’t as hot as some previous years here. But it has been for the last couple of weeks. Leaving the hotel pretty warm inside. So we leave our room’s windows wide open when we set off for Friedrichstrasse.

I was dead excited when I heard Tränenpalast had reopened as a museum. It’s a place I spent many a miserable hour in the 1980’s. Being where customs and passport controls were carried out for those leaving East Berlin via Friedrichstrasse station. Something I did a few dozen times.*

It’s was pretty weird. First you put tour bags on a table for the customs people to look through. Often very thoroughly. After which you were confronted by a wall of doors made from cheap laminated wood. You’d be directed through one of these to a narrow corridor, on one side of which was a border guard behind glass. Who’d really check your passport and visa.

Once you got past him, you were through into the station itself. Or at least the two westbound platforms. You were hermetically sealed off from the platforms serving the east. The photo of a model of the layout below should give you some idea of how it looked.

As well as the building itself, there’s an exhibition about the wall and the people who crossed over it. Hard to imagine today what an impenetrable barrier it was. Being in Berlin with Dolores was always weird. With the wall never far away. Being able to see, sometimes just 50 metres away, parts of the city she couldn’t visit.

I’m glad to be reminded of what it all looked like. Because obviously I couldn’t take photos. That would have got you into all sorts of shit.

But Tränenpalast only tells half the story. There was a similar hall for those entering East Berlin. That was in the main part of the station and has totally disappeared. There you left through a single windowless door. With no handle on the East Berlin side. Dolores would wait, staring at a blank wall, until I popped through the door without warning. Strange days.

Our original plan was to head up to Prenzlauerberg yet. But time is running short. We’re meeting Joe Stange at 13:00 at the beer festival. No way we’ll make that if we go first to Prenzlauerberg. So we head back to Friedrichshain.

We’re supposed to be meeting Joe at lamppost number 27. Which fortunately isn’t too much of a walk.

I love the Biermeile. Or the International Berlin Beer Festival, to give it its proper English name. It’s the least pretentious festival I know. Every type of beer, including mass-market beers, like Newcastle Brown, Carlsberg and Desperados. Lots of very, very unfashionable beers. Plus some craft shit.

I go for just one thing: Lager. Because there’s always some interesting Easter European Lager to be had. Everyday Czech and Polish drinking Lagers. The type of beer you won’t find in a geek beer bar.

No sign of Joe at lamppost 27. I wander around a bit looking for him. No luck. I go back and sit with Dolores. And we both drink some nice Czech stuff. I even took some notes. Starting with a beer brewed just outside Berlin:

Bernauer Torwächter Dunkel (12º Plato, 4.9% ABV)
Nice dark colour, but a bit bland. Not nasty, mind, and good for unthirsting me. (According to their website, it uses Munich malt as base.)

The table we're sitting at is a lovely old Schultheiss barrel. Which looks like it was in use until the late 1960's, judging by the inspection marks:

There are plenty of tattoos on display. That’s the joy of summer, seeing all the shitty leg and back tattoos people have disfigured themselves with. Lots of facial hair, too. But more moustaches and mullets than beards and buns.

Bernauer Torwächter Kellerbier (12º Plato, 4.9% ABV)
Pleasant spicy hop aroma. Bit yeasty. Not bad at all.

Bauer Schwarzbier (4.9% ABV)
Pleasantly roasty aroma and flavour. Very nice.

“That’s a bit odd, Dolores.”

“What is?”

“I thought Bauer closed several years ago. Yet they have their beers here.”**

I get all excited when I go past the stand of a polish brewery. They’ve got Grodziskie. Never had a Polish-brewed example before.

Złoty Pies Grodziskie
Yeah, it’s actually pretty right for the style: smoky and bitter. Only slight minus – not totally clear. Then again, neither was the one I collaborated on at Jopen. It tastes pretty similar to that beer, which we tried to make as authentic as possible.

Złoty Pies Setter Stout
Looks the part – pitch black, tan head. Pretty nice Stout – roasty, malty and a bit bitter. Not a bad attempt.

We stay and slowly sup for a couple of hours. Then take the tram M10 to Prenzlauerberg. Dolores wants to see an exhibition in Kulturbrauerei about everyday life in the DDR.

“Can’t you remember what it was like?” I quip. “Very funny, Ronald.”

It’s sad in a way, coming to an exhibition here. Because I can remember when this was a functioning brewery, operating as Schultheiss.

There’s a mockup of a DDR kitchen.

“Oh look, they’ve got the same egg cups as us, Dolores.”

“Everyone had them.” That makes me feel a bit less special.

When we’re done, it’s time to find somewhere to eat. A Vietnamese place. Had some nice Vietnamese food around this way last year. And I do love me some Vietnamese food.

Rather than us both trudge around, I stay and look after our stuff in Zum Schusterjungen while Dolores goes searching. May as well have a beer while I’m here. I go for Märkisches Landsman, a Schwarzbier.

I remember this pub from the 1980’s. It features in my very first beer article, a guide to pubs in East Berlin that was published in What’s Brewing in 1989. A random reserved sign on one table really brought back memories of the DDR days. There were always a few spread around, effectively putting out of service half the tables. Just because the staff couldn't be arsed to work them.

“I’m trying to remember if this was a communist pub or a Nazi pub in the 1930’s. It was one of the two.”*** Amazingly, Dolores can’t remember the place. I thought I was the one with the bad memory.

Dolores isn’t gone long. There’s a place a block and a half away.  I finish my beer and off we go.

Dolores gets a Pho. I have a beef noodle dish. To which I add a load of chili. Yum. Even better, they have bottled Augustiner Helles. I let Dolores try it. “Tastes like beer.” Praise, indeed, from Dolores. She likes her beer to taste like beer.

It’s not that late when we get to our hotel. So we go and sit on the roof terrace. Gazing out towards the Fernseherturm as the sun begins to set, colouring the clouds first orange then purple then finally inky black. The beer festival, despite being 400 metres away and there being plenty of large buildings inbetween, is audible. Glad we’re not staying on Karl-Marx-Allee.

“Did you ever go up the Fernseherturm?”

“Are you joking? They charged 5 marks. It took me two hours to earn that. A ridiculous price.”

Putting that into my sort of context, a half litre of draught beer was 1 mark at the time in East Berlin. I can see her point.

We don’t stay out late. Loads more to do tomorrow.

* While we were waiting to be married, I travelled to Berlin to see Dolores two or three weekends a month. Sometimes to sort out some of the documentation we needed to wed. Mostly just to meet. Jumping on a train in Amsterdam in the evening, I’d arrive at Friedrichstrasse at some ungodly early hour. 7 am or so. Then I’d have the fun of getting through the deliberately obstructive border regime. Dolores would be waiting behind the blank door for me. In Berlin you could get a 24-hour visa on the border. I needed two for the weekend. At 11:59 I’d go through Tränenpalast and join the queue to enter East Berlin again. An indeterminate time later, I’d pop through the door and (thankfully) always find Dolores waiting for me. Sunday evening, I’d take the night train back to Amsterdam. And go straight into work from the station. Neither of the trains had any sort of sleeper accommodation. Just compartments. When I was lucky, I got a whole bench to stretch out on. Otherwise, it was sleeping sitting up. Like being on a plane. But without the free drinks. After a while, I got to recognise people who were doing the same as me. Crossing straight back on a day visa. Dolores started to see the same faces every night her side of the border. Happy days? Ones I didn’t fully understand. And where I didn’t realise how fragile everything was. It all came crumbling down 18 months after our marriage.
** Bauer beers are currently brewed at Brauhaus Hartmannsdorf.
*** Zum Schusterjungen was the communist pub. Zum Hackepeter opposite (which no longer exists) was the Nazi pub.

Reichstagufer 17,
10117 Berlin.

International Berlin Beer Festival

Bernauer Torwächter
Rollberg 4,
16321 Bernau
Tel: +49 33 38 / 38 151

Brauhaus Hartmannsdorf
Chemnitzer Straße 5
09232 Hartmannsdorf.
Tel.: +49 (0)3722 - 71 91 - 0

Browar Złoty Pies
Wita Stwosza 1-2,
11-400 Wrocław,
Tel: +48 570 221 212

Zum Schusterjungen
Danziger Str. 9,
10435 Berlin.
Tel.: +49 30 4427654

Red Dragon
Danziger Str. 29,
10435 Berlin.
Tel.: +49 30 4429965


The Maltese Penguin said...

That was fascinating. Wish I was there now. I never visited Berlin until long after reunification, when I passed through Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof quite a few times, without knowing of its significance until years later.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Ron, the posts of yours where Dolores makes an appearance are always the best ones, for some reason.

Actually, having met her twice now (London & Macclesfield) it is clear that is what she does very well: reasoning. Like preferring beer to taste like beer.

Cheers and all the Best.


John Coates said...

Now I regret not going into Zum Schusterjungen when I lived around the corner. There is always next time.

And that's the beauty of the Berliner Biermeile, moustaches and mullets sprinkled with some hard to get lagers that no one knows about.

Lastly, thanks for sharing the DDR details, important for people to understand.