The Berlin Series:
- Berlin Day 1: Travel & Copenhagen
- Berlin Day 2: Brandenburg Gate-Reichstag-Checkpoint Charlie
- Berlin Day 3: Food Tour, East Side Gallery, and the Hasselhoff “Museum”
- Berlin Day 4: Museum Island, River Cruise, and the Ice Bar
- Berlin Day 5: Trip to Barsinghausen
- Berlin Day 6: Tempelhof Airport and Adjusted Travel Plans
- Berlin Day 7: Bonus Day in Berlin and Travel Home
Berlin Day 3 (March 13, 2023)
March 13 was Monday which meant that stores were open. Markets are mostly closed on Sundays. We felt like we should have some supplies for the Airbnb where we were staying, so Amy and I went out to forage before the kids woke up. We had a little success, but not much. The places that were close (at least the ones we managed to identify) were not very big. It was a damp, cool morning, but even so, taking a stroll in a new place is always interesting. I felt like there was a sort of uniformity to the buildings in the area where we were staying: lots of 5-6 story buildings packed together in grids. The businesses were varied, but if there was variation in the architecture, it didn’t jump out at me.
We had a food tour scheduled for lunchtime. The ones we did in Lisbon and Porto last year were really fun ways to get someone local to tell you about the city and, obviously, the food. I think I prefer dinner to lunch, but the dinner options had been booked by the time we scheduled ours. We rousted the kids, fed them some of the yogurt we’d managed to scavenge, and made our way to the Mitte area of Berlin. The meeting place was on the Friedrichs Bridge. We were to look for the woman with an orange umbrella. Nobody with that description was on the bridge. A guy with a fantastic mustache asked if we were there for the tour. He was another guest scheduled to be with the group, and we were all happy to be in the right place. Mel and his wife were from Detroit and had extended their trip to Europe another day to visit Berlin. A couple from Salt Lake City was also on the bridge and were part of our group. After not too long, the lady with the umbrella showed up and apologized for being late. Our guide was Donya? She was a student from Syria who had been doing this for about three months.
Another couple, Bernie and Crystal, were the last to arrive. Their taxi driver had gotten lost. An exchange made it clear that Mel recognized Bernie but I was far enough away from them that I couldn’t tell how or why. Later on, Bernie mentioned something about becoming “involved in professional athletics” when he was younger. That was enough for me to just ask him directly what sort of athletics. Turns out Bernie was Bernie Williams, all-star Yankee center-fielder who, among other things, holds the Major League Baseball post-season record for RBIs. As it happens, Bernie is also a professionally trained jazz guitarist. A musician friend described him as “the real deal,” and not just “good for a former athlete.” Crystal runs an outfit called Gator Cases which makes guitar cases, cases for other types of instruments, and various music accessories. So, despite hanging out with a baseball legend, our conversation focused a lot more on music and band. It was fun watching Cole drinking beers and talking music school and composition with these folks.
I didn’t note the name of the first restaurant we went to, but we had döner kebabs, and if I’m reading the geotagging on my pictures correctly, the place was called Mustafa Demir’s Gemuse Kebap. And it was fantastic. Aside from the goulash at Amy’s friend’s house, it was the best thing I ate all week. Our guide told us that these döner kebabs were created by Turkish immigrants who adapted traditional kebabs to German sensibilities by putting them into a pita that could be eaten more efficiently. If I have a complaint about the tour, it was that not much thought was given to water or other drinks to accompany the sandwich. (One of my few complaints about Europe in general is that water doesn’t generally accompany meals in restaurants unless you pay for the fancy bottled stuff.)
On our way to the next stop, our guide took us through Haus Schwarzenberg, an alley bursting with street art and murals. This was Harper’s favorite spot on the trip. Per the Atlas Obscura entry on the site, “Since street art is mercurial and chaotic by its very nature, the art on display in the alley next to Haus Schwarzenberg changes on an almost weekly basis, with new pieces being painted on, papered over, added to, and repurposed in the constantly evolving collage that washes over this little urban oasis. Famous street artists like El Bocho, Miss Van, Stinkfish, Otto Schade, and more have been known to add to the churn. The alley also features a famous painting of Anne Frank by Jimmy C that remains intact and untouched.”
Next up was currywurst at Curry 61. Don’t get me wrong, this is my kind of food. But, at the end of the day, it was more or less hotdogs in spicy ketchup. There wasn’t much space inside the restaurant, and we kind of crowded around a stand up table already occupied two or three patrons. One woman kept shaking her head as if annoyed by us, but it’s possible she just had a tic. We washed down the currywurst with a berliner from Samy’s Berliner Donuts. It was good, but by this time we were getting pretty full and thirsty. So, the next stop was notable not so much for the food as the wine. I believe the place was Weihanstephaner and the food was something like fancy mac & cheese. Judging by the amount of food left behind, that was probably the least favorite stop for the group.
The good news is that we all had pretty full stomachs for the beer tasting that came next at Das Lemke. Amy signed us up for the upgraded drinks package which, in retrospect, wasn’t really necessary for Harper. It came with flights of beer: a bohemian pilsner, the original (a Vienna style lager), a weizen, a pale ale, an IPA, and a berliner weisse. I’m not snobby about my beer by any means, but I don’t much care for wheat beers. Being a dutiful child who eats his vegetables first, I cleared out the berlinerweisse and the weizen so I could focus on the other beers. Cole cleared his away pretty readily, and we both helped out a bit with Amy and Harper’s. But, it was early afternoon, and we had stuff to do; so we were not members of the clean plate club – or clean pilsner club, I guess. It was here that the kids spent a good amount of time talking to Bernie and Crystal which, as I mentioned, made for fun listening.
We mentioned that our next stop after the food tour was the East Side Gallery. Bernie and Crystal wanted to see that spot and were not yet familiar with the public transport system. They asked if they could follow us. “I mean … sure. But, please join us!” So they did. The Gallery is a series of murals on the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall. “In the spring of 1990, after the opening of the Berlin Wall, this section was painted by 118 artists from 21 countries. The artists commented on the political changes of 1989/90 in a good hundred paintings on the side of the Wall that was formerly facing East Berlin. Due to urban development measures, it is no longer completely preserved, and instead of the originals from then, only the replicas from 2009 exist today.” One of the most famous is “My God, Help Me to Survive this Deadly Love” which depicts former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing Erich Honecker, an East German leader. The whole site is pretty remarkable, capturing the spirit of 1990 when the Wall came down.
Toward the end of our tour of the murals, we parted ways with Bernie & Crystal, and took it easy, looking out over the River Spree. We caught the tail end of some singers performing on the river walk and the sunset. Just beyond the East Side Gallery was the Wall Museum which provides some good history of the rise and fall of the wall. I think I liked it especially for its video of a live Pink Floyd performance of “the Wall” on July 21, 1990 at Potzdamer Platz.
Dinner was at a Burgermeister, and it was fantastic. A terrific burger with beers sold out of a shack under an elevated railway bridge. My kind of place! We ate outside, standing up at a table. It’s no secret that I like lowbrow places, and this fit the bill. Properly fed, we headed for the last stop of the evening: the David Hasselhoff Museum. Trouble was, about twenty minutes into our subway journey to the destination, I realized I’d left my backpack under the table at the Burgermeister. So, we headed back but without a ton of hope. The place had been pretty busy, and there was no reason for a person not to walk off with it. There was nothing in the pack that I couldn’t live without, but we’d miss the umbrellas and a hat I had in there. The biggest loss probably would have been my traveler’s notebook where I keep my notes for these trips along with keepsakes like tickets and a little bit of money. When we got back, there was nothing under the table. I asked a guy at the window of the shack, but his English wasn’t very good (and my German is non-existent.) But his face brightened when I made the gesture for putting on a backpack. Sure enough, someone had turned it in! No harm, no foul. In fact, all of our moods were brightened by the unexpected victory.
Retracing our steps, we made our way back toward the Hasselhoff Museum. Calling it a “museum” is overstating things in a big way. It’s half of a hallway in the basement of the Circus Hostel – not to be confused, like we did, with the Circus Hotel across the street. The Atlas Obscura entry on the site explains, “What started as a perhaps tongue-in-cheek shrine to the former Baywatch and Knight Rider star has evolved into a full-blown one man museum celebrating the legend, his music and acting career, and of course his longstanding love affair with the once-divided city.” Even if it’s small, it’s mighty. It has a mural of the Hoff and some memorabilia. Hostel management has asked that the street outside be named David-Hasselhoff-Strasse. Probably my favorite display was a magazine with a bold cover asking “Did David Hasselhoff end the Cold War? Facts You Need To Know: HE DID.”
Properly educated, we called it a night and headed home.
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