Friday 17th August – Sunday 19th August 2018
After 6 months of living in Romania, you may think that my last weekend before moving back to London would be an important one to spend at home – making the most of the things I’d come to love. Like chips from Cartofisserie, Gyros from Thessaloniki, burgers from Simbio, pancakes from Coftale and Hugos from Linea / Closer To The Moon. And, of course, I’d need time to say goodbye to Therme. Earlier on in my trip, however, that thought didn’t occur to me. My friend was on secondment in Vienna and we both had a public holiday on the Wednesday before so we figured we could take a couple of days off and make it into a trip to explore more of Eastern Europe.
That still sounds like a legitimate way of spending my last weekend in that part of the world – after all, when would I next have Eastern Europe on my doorstep. We thought Bosnia and Montenegro would be perfect destinations. The fact then that the weekend turned into my gazillionth trip to Berlin is a little harder to justify. In a nutshell, my friend realised she didn’t have enough annual leave to take any more days off and I realised that flights around CEE from Bucharest were not that much cheaper than if I was flying from London and direct flights were actually more scarce/non-existent. Plus, it was going to be my birthday and I liked the idea of being somewhere I was fond of. I’ll skirt over the fact that despite planning months in advance, we didn’t actually book flights for ages and I ended up having to empty the contents of my bank account into Ryanair’s pocket a couple of weeks beforehand (I’m exaggerating slightly / quite a bit but after the flights doubled that is what it felt like). But I do not regret at all.
It was sunny when I left Bucharest early Friday afternoon and sunny when I landed in Berlin. Another work friend would be joining me and Ms. Vienna but since they both wouldn’t be arriving until later, I had some time to myself. I had a massive craving for one of Bun Bao’s bao burgers and since I wasn’t sure how my friends would react to me dragging them across town to Prenzlauer Berg from our Wilmersdorf location, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go whilst I was solo.
Bun Bao was a 10-15 minute walk from Senefelderplatz U Bahn station, so I got to take a nice stroll through the sunny streets of Prenzlauer Berg. I passed a lot of nice looking restaurants and cafes – several of which seemed quite busy – en route but I had my destination locked down already. I arrived to find Bun Bao completely deserted. Luckily for me, it did turn out to be open. Unluckily for me, that meant I missed out on what would probably have been a better meal somewhere else close by. The first time I ordered the Bun Bao Original pork belly burger, it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. This time it was so hot that I could barely touch it and it seemed to be so hot because it had been really overcooked and was very tough. I also got continuously harassed by a wasp whilst I was eating. I’d like to say this time (and not the first time) was the anomaly but I’ll have to keep you posted.
Once I was done, I decided to try and bring things back with a trip to Spooning – a cookie dough cafe I had passed on the way to Bun Bao. I got a couple of scoops of different flavours, covered in chocolate. Unfortunately I forgot how sensitive my teeth can be in the face of sweet things, and this was very sweet, so didn’t really work out for me either.
Since the weather was sunny and I was in Prenzlauer Berg, I decided to go to one of my favourite spots – Mauer Park. I picked up a cider when I was close by and spent a while lying in the sun, on the parched ground (on top of the shirt I had helpfully brought to go over my dress if the sun went in, so I could avoid the cigarette butts and bottle caps).
As the clock ticked on, I had to head back to Wilmersdorf to meet my Vienna-based friend, picking up a bottle of something sparkling on my way – after all it was my birthday in a few hours. Ms. Vienna managed to find me and I managed to work the buzzer on the front door to let her in. By this time, I was hungry again and helpfully she was too so I took her to another of my favourite local haunts – Max and Moritz – for a beer and the king of all kebabs. Thankfully, she was just as much of a fan of them as I was.
My other friend was – of course – delayed on her flight from London and by the time she arrived we weren’t really in the mood to stick to our original plan of actually leaving the flat for drinks. Instead we popped open that bottle of bubbly and we saw in my birthday curled up on the sofa bed catching up.
The next morning, I decided to take advantage of being in Berlin with people who didn’t know the place, instead of my family who already have their favourite places, and took my friends to a place for brunch which I haven’t had a chance to try yet. I always pass Benedict at the Max Brown Ku’damm Hotel on my way to breakfast at Weyers with the family but not been able to get them to take a detour there. It hasn’t helped that it always seems full and this time was no different. We had a 45 minute wait for a table. Thankfully, however, there was space for us to take a seat and have a coffee while we waited so even though I was starving, the time didn’t drag. Too much.
Eventually we were seated and given menus, which were full of stuff you would expect to see on a London brunch menu. I ordered my standard order of Eggs Benedict, which was served with some thick slices of sourdough. Happily this was one of the multiple orders that came with a mimosa – which was more than called for on my birthday morning. The breakfast was nice but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was worth waiting 45 minutes for. Again, it didn’t help that there was another harassing wasp.
Finally fed, we were ready to start our activity for the day – sightseeing. Since this was my friends’ first trip to Berlin, I planned to play tour guide. We started in Potsdamer Platz (not that there is much there) to see the few bits of the Berlin wall that are on display there. From there, we walked down to the Holocaust Memorial – and around the tall, towering stones there – and onto the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag and Sinti and Roma Memorial. Afterwards, we walked up Unter den Linden, towards the Berliner Dom and then on towards Gendarmenmarkt with its German and French cathedrals. I had hoped to introduce my friends to Fassbender & Rausch chocolatiers and stop in for a birthday hot chocolate but – to my devastation – their chocolate cafe was closed for refurbishment, so instead we stopped off for a drink at Newton Bar.
We had dinner reservations but there was still a decent amount of time before that so, as my friends had not been impressed with the bits of the Berlin wall they had seen so far, I took them down to Friedrichshain to see 1.3km of it at the East Side Gallery. The first time I went there, the murals on the wall had been covered in writing and graffiti. The last time I went there, the murals had been cleaned but were now behind some tall, metal fencing. This time, they were clean(er) and fence-free, so we could properly enjoy the murals.
After walking down the gallery, we still had a little bit of time left and I realised that, despite having only been round the corner earlier, I had forgotten to show my friends Checkpoint Charlie. We could easily stop off here on the way to dinner so we hopped back on the train to Mitte. Unfortunately my easy plan turned out to be not so easily executed. Earlier in the day, I’d caught my sandal and since then I’d felt it getting looser and looser. Now as we walked to Checkpoint Charlie, it completely fell apart. This wasn’t ideal – I didn’t want to spend the whole night half barefoot.
I told my friends to go on without me and see Checkpoint Charlie while I waited for them on a street corner. It seemed like an age before my friends returned, but return they did. I was then forced to do something very extra. I called an Uber to take us a few minutes down the street to the closest H&M. I dragged my foot around the store, holding onto my broken shoe, on the hunt for new sandals with my friends giggling behind me. Thankfully, they did actually have sandals and all was right again.
For dinner, I was once again taking advantage of the fact that my friends would go wherever I suggested. This time it was a trip to Cecconi’s at Berlin’s Soho House. It was my birthday and I wanted my favourite cheesey pasta (they cook it in an actual wheel of cheese) in one of my favourite buildings. My friends were suitably impressed with both the food and the surroundings.
After dinner, it was time for drinks. We once again hopped in an Uber and made our way to Kottbusser Tor and to Bar Luzia. It was busy when we first arrived but we managed to grab some bar stools. They had some live music that night which I’m sorry to say rather cleared the place out. The guy in question was jumping on top of tables and getting up close to the audience, all whilst screaming into a microphone. It was a little scary, kind of entertaining and very Berlin.
We decided to try and find something with music that was a little more to our night out tastes. By which I mean cheesy pop. That is a pretty tall order in Berlin – the land of techno – but we managed to come across a (albeit very empty) nearby bar playing our kind of tunes. We stayed for a couple of drinks before my London based friend decided to head home, as she would be catching an early flight in the morning. Ms. Vienna and I, however, decided to stay out.
I had initially planned to show off Berlin’s nightlife to my friends with a trip to Weekend Club. The music is mainly techno, house and electronic (none of which either me or my friends are into) but it is at the top of an office block by Alexanderplatz with a roof terrace with great views of the TV Tower nearby and the rest of the city. Also, despite the music, I have had a pretty good night there before. After a few drinks, I can dance to anything. However, in the end, Ms. Vienna and I decided to go somewhere that played something more cheesy.
I knew one place that would do the trick – although I did remember it being quite trashy – Matrix underneath the U Bahn tracks by Warschauer Straße station. We spent the night between the main room (which played a bit more R&B-esque stuff and was full of 18 year olds (and in some cases I think I’m being generous saying even that)) and one of the side rooms (which played more pop throwbacks that attracted a, marginally, older clientele). I was certainly feeling my years on this particular birthday. With that in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that we didn’t stay too late but we did have fun.
The next morning, Ms. Vienna went out to meet a friend. I was meant to join but after I overslept and then cleaned the flat, I was running a bit late. I joined them eventually on the deckchairs by the river around Hackescher Hof – having just missed a round of nachos. Unfortunately I arrived to find that Schonefeld airport would take longer to get to than I had anticipated so stayed for a full 10 minutes before I had to hop back on the S Bahn and bid Berlin farewell once again.