(Part 2 next weekend in Holtum & Winkeldorf)
We 3 cousins have been waiting to get together for what seems like forever, although it’s only been 6 years, so when Ted and I decided to spend a month in Berlin it wasn’t long before Helga and Doris decided to join us here for a weekend.
We had the best part of 3 days to visit each other (with one of those days to include 2 recently discovered cousins Rita and Gudrun) and as it turned out we also had 3 goals to accomplish. My Goal: hug Helga & Doris. Our collective goal: get to know Rita & Gundrun. Doris’ auxiliary goal: eat Berlin’s iconic curry wurst and drink a Berliner Kindl.
(Berliner Kindl is a Pilsner beer that dates back to 1872, just one year after Germany was established as a country. It was once dubbed “the champagne of the north”, and has been issued in a special 150th Jubilee format this year.)
Ted and I met Helga and Doris at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station), and within less than 60 seconds I had accomplished my goal. Job done.
There were suitcases to be dropped off at their hotel, and then an important German afternoon ritual to be taken care of: the consumption of afternoon cake and coffee. We were a bit later than normal coffee break time, so the cake selection at our neighbourhood café was limited, but Café Luise didn’t disappoint with our fresh strawberry flans and cappuccinos..
Our next stop was showing them our little Berlin pied-á-terre and performing another important ritual: toasting our reunion with flutes of Sekt (Germany’s version of Prosecco or Champagne). After a start at getting caught up with each other, it was time to walk to the Hackischer Markt District to join Mark (Doris’ son) and his girlfriend Fina for dinner at a little Italian restaurant called Trattoria Pulcinella that Fina, a native Berliner, had chosen. Germans REALLY love Italian food! Dinner was delicious, but sadly the restaurant did not serve Berliner Kindl, so while the rest of us enjoyed white wine, Doris and Ted both had Warsteiner beers.
In Berlin, finishing dinner at 9 p.m. (21:00) means the sky is still light and the night is definitely still young, so the 6 of us headed off in search of a Berliner Kindl. In the process, we walked through the beautiful Hackischer Hof (courtyard) areas, which Ted and I would never have found on our own, and ended up in a gorgeous courtyard surrounded by blue-tiled buildings, plants, and lights. Ted was simply enjoying the company, so there are no pictures except the one I took which features, naturally, what we were drinking. I tried one of my cousin Helga’s favourites, a Berliner Weisser Grün (a Berliner Weiss beer to which woodruff syrup is added, giving it both a unique green colour and a unique very difficult to describe herbaceous yet sweet taste. Sadly, the lounge had no Berliner Kindl for Doris.
Today was our “extended family” day, when we were to meet Rita and Gundrun – distant cousins on our grandmother’s side. They were coming in from one of Berlin’s eastern boroughs and encountered a delay on the tram line, which meant we had around half an hour to wait around. What to do….what to do… naturally, cappuccinos in a riverside café at the Friedrichstrasse bridge.
Rita had chosen a river cruise as our venue to get to know each other, so we boarded the Reederei Bruno Winkler (below) for a 3-1/2 hour narrated tour.
The buildings, bridges, and locks were both beautiful and interesting, but the 5 of us, sitting at a table on the lower level, really weren’t paying attention. (Actually, I think Ted and I may repeat the tour next week – I’m pretty sure it’s worth doing.) Fortunately the boat was only about half full, so there was room on the upper deck for those downstairs who needed to relocate because they couldn’t hear the narration over the chattering and laughter of 5 women “of a certain age”getting to know each other. I never thought I’d be one of those people who disrupted others’ enjoyment of an event, but I’m embarrassed to say that by about 45 minutes into the tour, there were only 3 fully occupied tables on the enclosed level – all of them as chatty as we.
After disembarking from our river tour, we decided that our grouo needed a bit if history and culture. Since we were right beside the Friedrichstrasse train station, we took in two installations related to its history.
The first was a sculpture called TRAINS TO LIFE – TRAINS TO DEATH. During WWII, two kinds of “children’s transports” left the Friedrichstrasse train station. The first were in 1938-39, taking Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Danzig to England to be looked after by families there. The very first of these, carrying 190 children, started its route at this very station. The second kind of transports were those from 1941-1945 that transported children to death camps. The Israeli sculptor of this work, Frank Meisler, was himself a child of the 1939 Children’s Transport to England.
Tears also featured in our second activity: a walk through the Tränenpalast (palace of tears) Museum, in the former customs clearance hall of the train station, which was the checkpoint/control booth between East and West Berlin during the years that the city was divided. Exhibits include samples of the onerous paperwork involved in crossing the border, confiscated items, and rule books for the guards manning the station. Especially interesting was a looping film reel of old news stories, alternating West German and East German news coverage of the same event. The art of propaganda had certainly been perfected.
Then it was time to look for a place to have dinner. The consensus? Italian food, naturally. We enjoyed pizza and pasta at Casa Italia on Unter den Linden, not too far from the Brandenburger Tor. Sadly for Doris, this restaurant did not serve Berliner Kindl either!
When we said goodnight to Rita and Gundrun, Helga’s weekend goal was accomplished.
Since it was only 9 p.m. and still light outside, we decided to take in the Reichstag multimedia history show that runs each evening at dusk (10 p.m.) The three of us had seen the 2016 version when we were together last; the show is still as impressive, but has been significantly updated to include current events.
We sat on the stairs, each with a cold beer in hand – Berliner Pilsner, since once again there was no Berliner Kindl on offer – and thoroughly enjoyed the show.
Walking home afterward with our beer bottles in hand and still in progress, I realized that the last time I’d done that was on campus in my university days. Helga commented that now we looked like “real” Berliners!
Cousins. Not always a good influence.
After an entire day of peace and quiet to himself, Ted rejoined us today as we took the SBahn to Alexanderplatz and the Nikolaiviertel (Nicholas Quarter) to check out the sights and FINALLY get Doris curry wurst and a Berliner Kindl.
This area of Berlin really is charming. In fact, I have to agree with Berliners that the area formerly held by the Soviets really does hold more historic and more spectacular edifices than the portion that was West Berlin. Here is the Berlin Cathedral. Here are the stunning buildings of the Museum Island, including the Humboldt Museum which incorporates partially restored Berlin Palace. Here is the Red City Hall with its imposing clock tower, the Nikolai Church, and St, Mary’s. Not in this quarter, but it is the former East Berlin that is also home to the Brandenburger Tor, the Gendarmenmarkt, the New Synagogue, the spectacular Moltke Bridge and so much more.
Once off the SBahn, we headed toward and into the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church), into the square housing the Neptune Fountain, past the Red City Hall, around the outside of the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), along the Spree to St. Nicholas’ Church, posed for photos at the statue of St. George slaying a dragon, pumped water from a unique old community water pump, and took an important hydration break at the Spreeblick restaurant on the river…. where Doris was finally able to get a Berliner Kindl !
Then it was back to strolling the picturesque quarter, interrupted by a nutrition break: Curry wurst, pommes “red & white” (which is German for pommes frites with both ketchup and mayonnaise) and more Berliner Kindl (0.5 litre bottles!) Doris’ goal finally achieved.
We continued walking along the Spree until we “needed” to sit again for a bit, this time for Milchkaffee, which is the German equivalent of café au lait.
At this point, Ted left us and we three continued our river walk to the main train station, where there was just enough time for another cool drink before saying our (temporary) good-byes.
Next Friday Ted and I board the ICE high speed train to Verden, where Helga and Manny will pick us up for a couple of days visiting more cousins. In the meantime, back to sightseeing in and around Berlin!